Weekly Trip to the Library for Nannies and Au Pairs
"They say it's like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime." -- Kathryn Stockett
Talk about a page-turner! I have never had more trouble putting down a book than the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Anyone who gravitates towards the passionate issues of civil rights will love this book about black domestic servants working in Jackson, Mississippi households in 1962. Domestic employees may love the novel even more for the affectionate intimacy shared by the white children and their black servants in the South during the civil rights era. But, the book has me wondering if things really have improved as much as we would hope since 1962 in the deep South.
The story is written from the perspective of three different women. Aibileen and Minny are black servants that share the narration with Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, the white college graduate hoping to become a writer. Skeeter unintentionally becomes a civil rights activist in her attempt to become a writer. With the assistance of the black "help" she is able to write the book about working as a black domestic in the white households of Mississippi.
Although the media televises the tragic murders of black men Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. in the novel, the white community of Jackson, Mississippi seem unaware of the civil rights activism occurring in the rest of the country. By the end of the book Skeeter decides to move to New York, being shunned from the white community in her hometown.
Have things really changed since 1962 in the deep South? Certainly it is politically incorrect and illegal to not hire a person due to race. Obviously black nannies and housekeepers share the toilets, plates, and tables of their white employers today. Black Americans employ white domestics today. Clearly black history is improving -- Barack Obama has been elected President. But, with the in-home caregiver industry highly unregulated is there really anyway we can be certain that domestic employers aren't choosing white employees to work in their homes instead of African or Caribbean caregivers? Are parents choosing to hire white caregivers over a black nannies because they are racist (even if it is illegal)? Absolutely.
I currently have an Italian American white friend and a Caribbean American black friend looking for nanny jobs. They both have more than six-years experience at their previous jobs in the same town and both have stellar references. They are both using the same nanny placement agency and the same online placement website. The Caribbean caregiver has been out of work one month longer than the white nanny. My black friend has had a total of three interviews while the white nanny candidate went on five interviews the first weekend she was unemployed. The white nanny has been offered jobs, while my black friend cannot get interviews.
Obviously I may be making sweeping generalizations. There could be much more than just race determining who is being interviewed and offered jobs. But, it feels like my theory may really be affecting who is getting interviewed and who is getting offered jobs. Although it's illegal for agencies or parents to accept interviews or hire employees due to race, can anyone really enforce that?
Maybe more shocking is that a parent told me this week that she has been asked by nanny placement agency staff, "Would you be interested in interviewing nannies from the Islands?" The parents was shocked and offended. That is illegal.
On the surface, and certainly for my friends and neighbors, diversity is much more widely accepted today than in the South in the early 1960s. There are civil rights laws and labor laws protecting the rights of every race, religion, disability, and gender today. But in a highly unregulated industry of in-home, domestic employees it's nearly impossible to enforce these most basic rights and laws.
I am excited and cannot wait for the film based on the novel The Help with a script written by Tate Taylor and produced by Chris Columbus (according to Variety). I am glad I read this novel, and I am sure you will be too.