Every time I see an African domestic (maid) with white children, a wave of sadness comes over my heart. I understand the cultural dynamics, the legacy of race in this country, and the economic inequity to know the reason for and, in a way, the necessity for these domestics. But my heart feels sad all the same when I see situations as I described.
I think I know why I feel the way I do. My grandmother on my father’s side was a domestic. Grandma was an educated lady. She was a teacher, but when she got married, as was the custom of the day, she stopped working to stay at home as a housewife. Eventually, for her family to earn extra money, she worked as a maid for a doctor’s family. In Jim Crow South, this was one of the few things black women could do to earn an income. Thankfully, the doctor and his family treated Grandma well; and she talked fondly about them until the day she died.
My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a domestic. She was a formidable, God-fearing woman. She raised half of the children–both black and white–in her small Southern town. When she passed away, there was standing room only at her funeral, as the entire town, all of her children, turned out to pay tribute.
My great-grandmother on my father’s side was an ex-slave. Queen was her name; and according to the family stories, her named suited her. When freed, she was given land in her own right. That land is still in my family today.
So I think the reason why I feel sad when I see African domestics taking care of white children is because I see my grandmothers in them. I wonder if they have good situations in caring families, as my two grandmothers had, or if they are treated badly. I wonder what children they have of their own whom they are struggling to support, to give a leg up in the world. I wonder if they are happy. I wonder if they are really queens underneath their doeks. I think my grandmothers would be proud to know that their hard work has not only paid off in their children but also in their children’s children and in their children’s children’s children. I wonder what my grandmothers would think of me. What would they think of my serving as a missionary in Africa? I hope they would be proud. I like to think that they would.