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White Employers, Black Domestics, and Infrapolitics

90 year old Ella Gold Baker July 2005, recipe below

Historically African-American elders made sure that black youths clearly understood the particularities, dictates, and customs of interacting with white folks in eateries or their homes as live-in domestic servants, seamstress, and laundresses. Interacting with white folks could be a degrading and even dangerous experience, because in the words of one interviewee, you never knew when some volatile white southerner was going to “go off.” Ella (Christopher) Barnett was born in the rural farming community of Cloverdale, Virginia in 1915. She remembered that when she was thirteen she worked for a white women and her husband as a domestic in Cloverdale and “they were as nasty as they could be to colored people. . . colored people had a hard time.” Barnett eventually migrated to Tarrytown, New York where she worked as a cook for a white family until she retired. Thus she protested intolerable conditions by migrating North.  Interviews with southerners indicate that African Americans did not simply capitulate to Jim Crow conditions in the South and nasty white folks but employed what one scholar calls “infrapolitics.” These included such everyday forms of resistance as theft and employing what one historian calls the “cult of Sambohood”: using grins, shuffles, and “yassums” to get what one needed without violence. In the movie The Help black domestic are viewed as almost helpless in their relationships with nasty white employers. There exception including the famous pie scene; an item that found while cleaning and pawned, and the mention that the main character writes down her prayers in a book. The book provides fuller description of a prayer warrior who in biblical tradition uses prayer as form of resistance against those doing. It's another example of infrapolitics in which one confronts, evades, and resist  powerful people and something that the book addresses well and Hollywood all but dismisses. Interviews I did showed countless examples of infrapolitics from migrating, stealing, and as I will discuss tomorrow, toting

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