Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

I've never seen anything like it. They like flocks of birds. They all flock down to Florida now and from March they come back to New York. And they see each other every day on the beach. They come back to New York and they want to sit and eat every day. . . . Oh, I wouldn't like switching place with her because I have noticed that although people are very, very rich and they have everything, they go very unhappy underneath and it sometimes shows on them. I don't want to be unhappy. I don't know, I just don't admire them because I've noticed they come to dinner and they complain about hangnails and little things like that. And they just get to themselves and cry. And do you know that half these rich people around here they wind up on all sorts of things. I don't think I would want to change, but I would like to live differently. . . . But if I was to change life with them, I would like to have just a little bit of they money, that's all.

It is my contention that these sentiments were nurtured and developed through years of observation and negotiation. They are both the source of the ability to resist oppression and the product of years of resistance. In addition, they are the result of a collective consciousness that was developed and passed from one generation to the next, shared among workers as they rode the buses or talked in their boarding houses at the end of the day, and reaffirmed by the knowledge of social inequities that unjustly consigned Black women and their daughters to this low-status, low-paid, and dirtiest of women's jobs.


ACKNOLOGYOWLEDGMENTS

The author gratefully acknowledges the comments and suggestions of Cheryl Townsend Gilkes and the editors, Ann Bookman and Sandra Morgen, on an earlier version of this manuscript.


NOTES
1.
Bonnie Thornton Dill, "Across the Boundaries of Race and Class: An Exploration of the Relationship between Work and Family among Black Female Domestic Servants" (doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1979). The study focused upon the perceptions and symbolic structures through which the women presented the strategies they used in managing work, family, and the interpersonal relationships involved in each. It also examined the ways the women conceptualized and experienced social structural factors such as race, class, poverty, and a low-status occupation.
2.
Interviews for this research were conducted between January and October of 1976. The names used here are pseudonyms. This sample of twenty-six women was located by three methods: referrals by individuals, visits to senior citizen centers in New York City, and contacting organizations of household workers and employment agencies.
3.
Between 1890 and 1960 a higher percentage of Black women were employed in private household (domestic) service than in any other single (broad) occupational category. By 1960, 60 percent of Black women were employed in service occupations, but only

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