For a few days now, this article has been making the rounds on the internet. Some of my friends have read it and asked if I have too. Some shared excerpts on their social media accounts, which only heightened my restlessness. I figured it was a long piece so I shelved it for the weekend. I've just finished reading it. It's a depressing account of a reality that seems familiar but, as written, becomes more dispiriting in ways that tug at a fragile human capacity to absorb another's unfortunate misfortune. I couldn't finish it at a single read. No way. I needed breaks. Same way I read more miserable accounts - my favourite non-fictions nod to this type of narrative - Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" fucked with my mind but the humour and the dazzling narration was enough to tame any possible melancholy that the book sought to evoke. Same as Dave Egger's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". I recovered from the misery of the books.
It's a long personal essay that exposes a family's treatment of a nanny, against the backdrop of America's promise of individual freedom and prosperity. It feels very familiar. Everyone can relate to the mistreatment of houseboy, housegirl, omo odo, house-help, house-maids, nanny, or whatever fancy name they are given these days. There's something inhumane and unforgiving about an economic and social arrangement that elects some people into domestic servitude, in ways that strip them of their humanity, that turns them into second-class, third-class citizens. This happens everywhere. They are the unreported victims of the darkest forms of domestic violence. Not those celebrities mining their domestic woes for showbiz attention. Not those attention seekers skewing details of their private frapapa or emotional imbalances to earn social media points.
The hero of this essay - there's really no way to describe her, was robbed of everything. I wanted to believe this is fiction but I realize that similar reality obtains. Growing up, I knew a family where the mother was so horrible I couldn't stand her even as her children and my siblings were acquainted. The way she treated those on her domestic salary roll was the stuff of Patience Ozokwor's witch characters, raised to power nuclear bipolar. She knew I didn't like her. But I still ate her food and played in her fine apartment.
Until there's a social arrangement that respects and protects domestic staff, I will never like the idea of house-helps. Maybe I'm just a silly empath.