Monday, October 5, 2009

Amish Women Replacing Colored Cleaning Ladies

A young Amish woman, about 25-years-old, is presently cleaning the house of my daughter in the Cleveland area. A van drops off the women at the houses early in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon, when the cleaning is completed. There are many Amish communities just south of Cleveland and the women have found an opportunity to bring some money into their households through cleaning . 'Laura,' the one who just finished in the study, speaks fine English, is intelligent, and attractive, yet is stuck carrying pails of water and mops from room to room, perhaps for the rest of her life.

Back in the 40's and 50's, my mother had a 'colored' woman do the cleaning for her. She and other colored women would get off of the bus in the white section of town, and walk down the street, each entering a separate [and unequal] house to do the daily maid's work. Black women today, of course, have been partially liberated from that dead-end job and are able to find work beyond cleaning. Amish women, on the other hand, are stuck. There is no 'equal opportunity' for the Amish because of their culture, their education, and their overarching religious beliefs. They are stuck doing the work of the 'colored' women of the 1940's.

My wife is reading a novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, a book that opens the door of the colored maids of the South, specifically those who served the white households of Jackson, Mississippi. Occasionally she reads a passage to me and it brings back memories of those awful Jim Crow Laws and that terribly shameful period of American history.

Racism is not dead; it often raises its ugly head. And when it does, a shiver runs through my spine, and my mind floods with those black and white TV images of police dogs, water hoses, and white policemen beating the heads of black men and women in the streets of the South.

I know racism: I lived through the 1960's. And when I hear a racist joke my hair bristles and affect falls from my face. When I hear those phony, whining white teabaggers and other right-wing nuts accuse blacks of 'racism,' my blood pressure and adrenalin levels rise in response. Those blokes have no clue, no idea of what racism is all about. They just want to score a cheap point in the game of politics. Ignorant twits.

Laura just wrung the mop, water splashing into the pail. Is she happy with her limited opportunities in life? Perhaps she is. Yet, like the colored cleaning ladies of the past, there are boundaries, prohibitions which keep her stuck in the service of The Help.

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