Good morning everyone! Thank you very much for coming back and reading 💕
Last year, I had a politics lesson that left me with a lot of displaced emotions towards the comments that were made by some of my European peers. The topic in discussion was along the lives of slavery and lack of freedom, both in the past and in today’s societies. Some time during the class discussion, someone raised their hand and boldly stated that “African, South American and Asian people who still have housemaids are essentially modern day slave owners.” The sentence struck me and I immediately wanted to get up and slap this person. My professor saw the look on my face (as well as that of another Asian student in the class) and drew attention to our reactions and asked why we found the statement so outrageous. The problem was that, in that moment, I was angry that something like that had even been said and when I am emotional, I usually cannot make a sensible, conducive argument, so all I said was “I disagree.” My professor, (bless his soul) noticed how uncomfortable I had started to feel so he did not pursue my apprehension any further. A year later, I have gathered my thoughts and emotions and I feel like I can now explain it in the way I wanted to back then. Now, my explanations are based on personal experience and what I have observed around me so this is not to say that there is no mistreatment of household workers around the world but the comment made by my peer was made with absolutely no sensitivity to the topic and with no educational basis whatsoever.
I think it is important for me to first highlight the argument she was making. She stated that housework and child minding were tasks which no one would want to do for as little as they are paid in ‘our counties.’ That was it. That was her entire basis for calling three continents modern day slave owners. I realise now that this argument said more about her mentality than it did about anything else on the topic. The fact that she saw this job in particular as slave work shows exactly where her references to reality come from. Other jobs earn the same amount for jobs people enjoy less but I do not think she would have called these ‘working people’ modern day slaves. Honestly, I was so confused by the entire argument and worse so, the debate went on for some time. To me, it seemed like common sense; if we used this argument then we are all slaves aren’t we? My family members earn good/decent money but still may dislike their jobs so are they slaves? Additionally, there was no education on economics in the regions she was referring to. She stated that maids were underpaid but according to whose standard? According to Western standards, more than half of the African continent is underpaid. I also don’t think there was even a number in mind, just the equation of housework + a black person = slave.
My upset was not only with the insensitively of it all but it was also with the fact that there were people who truly didn’t understand the dynamic me and (the Asian) student tried to explain – because we seemed to have the same relationship with our maids. I think there is no other way for me to explain it than to talk about my maid; someone I consider my second mother. Yes, she has been paid by cook, clean, wash clothes and look after us. But, Irene, has been in my life since I was 3 years old. She has fed me (still does every time I am home from university), bathed me, rocked me to sleep, been a friend, a confidant, nursed my heart when it was broken, taken care of me when I was sick and a long list of other things which are not obligatory for her. I/we have been there for her in the same way; we have fed her, clothed her, celebrated with her, mourned with her, taken care of her when she was sick and a long list of other things which were not obligatory for us. It is love in its purest and truest form. She is family; even though technically she works for the family. This dynamic is not unique to me, all the Zimbabweans I know actually have this relationship with their maids; its normal. So you can imagine my shock and confusion when I heard a statement like that and really I wondered where such ideas came from. With more thought however, I realised that it was simply from a place of ignorance; she did not understand the situation she was so boldly referring to, which is also allowed, we all make misinformed statements.
I am sure her ideas and those of a few others in the class did not come from nowhere, however, I implore everyone to at least have a semblance of true knowledge on a topic before you boldly state opinions on a topic that might actually offend or upset someone. What is more is that this conversation genuinely became an argument in which us (with real life experience) submitted and kept quiet because the idea of fighting someone on your own cultural upbringing which they know nothing about is emotionally exhausting and draining. Nevertheless, I thought it should be something that I should try and explain because this misconception exists from sordid historical references. Even so, I hope people who think this way will question themselves on why, do some research or reach out to some friends who might have the answers and really try and understand the perspectives and lived experiences that are different from yours.