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Washington, D.C.—Today’s release of the movie “The Help” offers a moment to draw the connections between the everyday experiences of domestic workers in the South in the 1960s and current immigrant domestic workers, many of who are of Latino, African, and Caribbean descent, writes CAP’s Joy Moses. Below is an excerpt from Moses’s column. Click here for the full version.
“The Help,” this week’s non-action movie release, tells the story of black household workers in the South in the early 1960s—domestic helpers who take great risks by sharing stories about what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. Their tales not only reveal the great sense of empowerment that comes from sharing and having your voice heard but also remind us of the greatness of the real women who do this work today under sometimes terrible conditions. The release of the movie offers a moment to draw the connections between those household workers five decades ago and current immigrant domestic workers, many of whom are of Latino, African, and Caribbean descent.
The author of the novel on which the movie is based, Kathryn Stockett, a white upper-class Southerner, undertook the extraordinarily difficult task of writing from a perspective that is not her own. This means the narrative is definitely not all that it could be. Readers and moviegoers will wonder whether she paid enough attention to stories of actual women who did this household work during the pre-Civil Rights era, some of whom I know were in my family and just about every black family.
Similarly, maybe American audiences should question whether we too often ignore the stories of the women who do this work today, in this era before, one hopes, comprehensive immigration reform. What are we missing if we don’t pay enough attention to our history of connections to one another, to the stories of women who work hard to care for their families, sometimes acting as super nurturers by caring for two sets of children—some at work and their own at home?
“The Help” needs to be matched up with research that presents actual stories to reflect the low pay and minimal respect society offered to black domestic help in our country over the past five decades. In addition, research needs to include details about the debilitating costs of being locked out of the government safety net created under the New Deal, which granted a lot of discretion to states that were then free to discriminate against African Americans. Read the full column here.
Joy Moses is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress.
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