White Husbands and Black Maids: from Drylongso

Gimmie a Break on You Tube, for a refresher on Black maids

I read Drylongso by John Gwaltney while working on The Crack Project. Drylongso is an ethnography of? Black people in North Eastern cities in the late seventies. Ironically, The Graduate (the man for whom I played number two a few years back//that was fun, and he is now my friend) recommended that I read it.

I am glad that I called him and asked for his help (he is a historian) as reading Drylongso helped me to conceptualize why oral histories are really a powerful and important tool for documenting the lives of Black people.

But for introductions to the individual chapters, and a fourteen page introduction,? the book is? mainly testimony straight from the people that Gwaltney interviewed.

Gwaltney sums up his intentions with writing Drylongso when he says,

…I share the opinion commonly held by natives of my community that we have been traditionally mispresented by standard social science.

…This is not therefore another collection of street-corner exotica but an explication of black culture as it is perceived by the vast majority of Afro-Americans who are working members of stable families in pursuit of much of the same kinds of happiness that preoccupy? the rest of American society.

…far often than not, the primary status of a black person is accorded by the people he or she lives among. It is based upon assessments of that persons fidelity to the core black standards. the categories “real right” and “jackleg” cover the spectra of statuses…

Rereading this book over the last week, I was moved by how Black women theorized racial relations between them, white men and white women.

Now, quiet as it’s kept, these white men try to rule their wives like that too. And if they can’t beat them, then they toles them with nice things. If my husband had encouraged my children to go out here and treat some woman the way white boys have tried to treat me, I would leave or he would have to leave. But that’s because I do not need a man to feed myself. White women don’t, either, but they think that they do, so they just put up with all this stuff that they should not stand for. Now just like I have to get out here ad hit it, they could too…

I have worked for many white women and most of them did not have the sayso any more than I did. Not as much as I did sometimes. If I had been the kind of woman that they might find in bed with their husbands, there wouldn’t have been anything that mot of them could do about that commonness but maybe? get their husbands to fire me. Now, that won’t work with black women because Black men don’t have anymore than we do. How I’m gone boss you if you got just as much as I got? ~Nancy White

Three white women that I have worked for have had the nerve to ask me to go to bed with their sons, and one, bless God, even had the nerve to ask me to take off my clothes for her husband. These were fully grown women with children of their own. Now can you imagine a black woman doing a thing like that? Hattie or Rennie or Nancy, anyone out here, will tell you something like that. To white people, your feelings just don’t count for nothing. Nothing counts to them except for what they want. ~Alberta Roberts

I thought her comments about race, and white women, work and power were incredible.

“How I’m gone boss you if you got just as much as I got?”

The assumption here is who ever got the dough, has the right to dominate. Which if you have been reading my blog for the last month, is Patriarchy 101.

We rarely talk about the the connection between Black and White people,? the power relationships that arise when it comes to work and labor.

In fact, prior to the 1960’s most Black women worked as, nurses, nanny’s and maids, as that is what society saw them as being naturally fit to do. With integration and the creation of affirmative action, Black women were able, and all women for that matter were able, to attend school in larger numbers and obtain fancy jobs, sit down jobs, city jobs, academic jobs.

Have you ever been a nanny or maid? for a family of another race?

Have you ever hired a nanny or maid of another race?

How did that work out?

What do you think of Ms. White’s comments?

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  1. says

    This post had really got me thinking. I’m gonna answer your awesomesauce discussion questions.

    a.)I have never been a maid, but I am out here navigating life in this jobless recession, and after having been under-employed (for two years in October)in my own field, I have applied for several housekeeping (hotel) openings. It’s hard work for minimum wage and I got a degree and experience and junk, but fuck it, it’s work. When I told my mom, she looked like her heart was breaking. See, I am the first woman in our family who hasn’t had to do some kinda domestic hustle, and she was real proud of that. I think it felt like we’d “made it” for a second. SIGH. Oh, well, Black president.

    b.)Nope, but the nice ladies who cleaned our dorms were mostly white. Sweetest women you ever met. They HAAAAAAAAAATED the White kids, who were usually upper class old money. I think Michael Moore, who grew up working class, tends to have more of an affinity with people of color than rich White fokes for the same reason.

    c.) Hmmm. I’ve said and maintain that Black patriarchy harms Black women, men and babies more directly and profoundly than White racism does sometimes. I think this kind of “ruling” over Black women by Black men doesn’t work not just because of money, but also because historically because of their positionality Black men haven’t been able to keep Black women safe from White racism. How you goan tell me what to do when you can’t protect me?

    Anyway, I’ve been turning over some thoughts for a post about my grandma in my head thanks to you. 😀

  2. Renina says


    Your comments are ALWAYS on point.

    When I told my mom, she looked like her heart was breaking. See, I am the first woman in our family who hasn?t had to do some kinda domestic hustle,
    Soooo true.
    Last year in NY when my money was funny I was looking at House cleaning gig’s too. Its crazy when these moments show us how the idea of a meritocracy is one that semingly only works for gentried White boy children. #ummhmm.

    Black patriarchy harms Black women, men and babies more directly and profoundly than White racism does sometimes.
    Nah boo. I would push back and say that Women of color in general and Black women specifically be fucked off in the game because of the ways in which White Racism and Black Patriarchy work mutually as oppressive forces in our day to day lives. Single cause frameworks don’t do justice to Black women who live multi causal lives. I think that comes from Kimberle Crenshaw Williams.

  3. says

    I agree with your last point, and I love Ms. Crenshaw Williams’ work! I think what I meant to articulate is that while White racism seems to work in both a systemic and direct way, Black patriarchy seems to be more direct. I’m not articulating this well at all, but …hmmm…I guess White racism could be compared to something like extremely toxic smog that kills you slowly and oftimes produces pockets acid sleet (incidents of obvious/violent racism).I think of Black patriarchy as more like a spike-handled mallet: it hurts the person holding it whenever they use it, but it hurts whoever is on the receiving end of the blows more.

    So I guess that means that, as Black women in America, we gotta worry about smog, acid precipitation, and asshats with mallets. Wompity.

  4. says

    Hmm, i was surprised she put so succinctly what it took me years to realize about the power dynamics – that it is primarily based upon money. Now the fact that black men and women so often had nothing together is why there has been such a strong emphasis on biblical hierarchy i.e. male headship – because they knew the moral ground was the only way that men could lead.
    it also kind of explains the hoopla around the single “successful” black woman. the attention derives from fear that these women will now have power in the relationships. which kind of makes me laugh. it wasn’t until women started getting money in their hands, that society at large reminded them that money isn’t that important anyway.