The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South
If you enjoyed The Help, take a look at The Maid Narratives (a takeoff on the famous slave narratives), which offers up a nonfiction look at the South’s Jim Crow strict caste system. Interviews with 13 elderly black women who worked as maids are at its heart, but there are also white voices, people who had loved their nurses and maids. My favorite parts gave me context and reflection on the interviews. For instance, the authors note that while all the whites saw their maids as “part of the family,” none of the black women recalled feeling that way. The maids typically weren’t allowed to come through the front door, use the bathroom or even, in Vinella Byrd’s case, allowed to wash up in the wash pan. “After that, I didn’t wash my hands at all,” Byrd said. “I would just go in and start cooking.
And yet these relationships weren’t just demeaning with nothing else to say; there was also sympathy on both sides. The authors do a good job delving into that human complexity and presenting it in an accessible way.