Toni Morrison passed away last past week. She was justifiably called a literary mother to many writers, and the world is a poorer place without her.
While taking a moment to embrace her ancestress-hood, two things came up – I can’t get my grey to come into the dreadlox, Mama Morrison, but I am working on it and so is life.
And two: Who was your housekeeper? Is he or she (ze) going to be okay? Because the only mention of a housekeeper in your biographies was an obscure find via the Internet that mentioned the housekeeper would watch your boys as you worked all day and you would come home and write while they slept and that’s how you ended up getting published.
This is how I want to kick it off, and yes, it’s a several-parter. Truth: I support automation and technologies that make human life easier and less “labour” intensive. Beyond the sorta-Marxist techno-optimistic Afrofuturism, this is a self-serving position because of domestic work.
As a single woman of a certain age I am now in the middle of The Sandwich – there are children to take care of, elderly people to take care of, and of course financially compensated “work” because apparently those previous two responsibilities don’t really count as monetiseable. But they are.
Which is why I happily outsource the bulk of my domestic work. It is how I was raised. It is how the next generation is being raised.
It has been a factor of African women’s lives for a long time. When we say it takes a village, it really does, and sometimes you have to pay for some members of the “village” to help out.
If before that meant organising some goat meat and banana beer for those who helped you build your hut, well now it can be transacted in cold, hard cash.
This brings up conflicting feelings, of course: Domestic work is one of the leading causes of human trafficking both internally and internationally.
We don’t talk nearly as much about it as we could because we’re all complicit to some extent, right? When I was a child, trafficking was more in the form of “adopting” a young relative from the village and giving them the opportunity to perform unpaid housework and childcare in your home in exchange for vague promises – often unfulfilled – of educational or vocational advancement. Which evolved into a lucrative business of bringing “good” young girls from the villages to get hired in middle class homes in the cities and, well, onwards.
Having promised myself not to contribute to this form of abuse against women, I of course simply evolved it to suit my moral and economic parameters.
I outsource my domestic labour, pay as best I can for it and don’t take my housekeeper (who is really the manager of my household) for granted. Oh: I also don’t employ anyone younger than me.
This last one is because of an aspect of domestic work that we definitely don’t talk about enough; it is very gendered, very structured, and very much dependent on patriarchal behaviour on the part of women for the worst practices to thrive.
And that, my friends, is what everyday feminism can look like. I want you to contemplate as you read this article and reflect on your relationship with your domestic workers over the years. Let that marinate. If it hurts, even just a little bit, then congratulations: You are still human. Ah, where does that automation thing fit into this, you ask? Tune in next week. #FreeErickKabendera.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]