“After The Fact Affection” for The Help

Posted on January 28, 2011


So what happens now? There’s all this glowing After the Fact Affection I keep reading about, where those who had maids are showing up at book clubs with pictures and stories about their former domestics. Very touching. Only, I wonder if some of these same people even give an African American who’s not a maid the time of day.  And what of those who are still domestics? Are they being being treated with dignity? Or have we learned nothing from the past?

Scene from the movie The Help, featuring Emma Stone as Skeeter and Viola Davis as Aibileen


Not that much separates us. . .

                                                           -Skeeter’s revelation, and also Kathryn Stockett’s


If that’s true, if the author believed her book showed that African Americans and whites aren’t really that different, then why do her maids fall back on stereotypes like these old advertisements, which fondly recall the default image for a black domestic or maid :

Sanka Coffee Ad











And this:

Electrolux Ad from 1941



















What “separates” us, is that white maids are usually depicted like this:

Image of White Maid Fantasy


In reality, many were no different from African American Maids:











But this is how segregation helped perpetuate a stereotypical image of the black domestic as “Mammy” instead:

Sheet Music featuring a Maid/Mammy Character. Image from http://www.ferris.edu/


Sunlight Soap Ad. Image from http://www.ferris.edu/


Mammy lamp. Image from http://www.ferris.edu/


Hushabye. Image from http://www.ferris.edu/




She refused to play a Maid and couldn’t find suitable parts in Hollywood:

Legendary singer and entertainer Lena Horne













“My father said I can get a maid for my daughter. I don’t want her in the movies playing maids.”-Legendary Entertainer Lena Horne


I found an interesting PBS documentary on Maids in America today:


Maid in America Site

Both before and after the Civil War, African American women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line were domestics, charged both with housekeeping duties and childcare responsibilities. By the turn of the century, though, that was changing, as the Irish assimilated into American society. Even after slavery was a thing of the past, African American women continued to serve as maids and nannies.

New immigrant groups at the end of the twentieth century began to change that, particularly in the Southwest. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other Central Americans began coming to the United States in ever-greater numbers—both legally and illegally—and, just as in the past, those on the lowest rung of the economic and enfranchisement ladders found that the only jobs they could get were as domestic workers.

There are over 100,000 domestic workers in Los Angeles. And even in the best of situations, the employee/employer relationship is fraught with uncertainty and guilt. . .

In MAID IN AMERICA, we meet the Marburys, an upper middle-class African American family whose son, Mickey, has been cared for by their employee Telma since he was an infant. With a demanding career, Karol Marbury is openly grateful for Telma’s help, and Telma loves Mickey as her own son, but there are some uneasy undercurrents: Karol can’t help but be uncomfortable when Mickey refers to Telma as his mother, while Telma’s love for Mickey is tempered by the fact that she has children of her own who don’t get the attention she lavishes on Mickey.


Mammy Images link –  http://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/mammies/more/

To Be Continued . . .

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