Black Girls and White Women (Part I)

I only know one other person who is getting Medicaid home health aides and she is just as outraged as I am at how we get treated. She concurs with everything I say about aides being arrogant and bossy, and she goes even further than I do at finding their behavior unacceptable.

The issue is that they are black. Fifteen years ago when I first started getting home health aides they were mostly white, like me. It matters a lot when you have people in your home that they look like you, have similar life experiences to you, and comparable expectations. My father was a college professor; my mother came from a farming background; I grew up on a college campus.

Nobody but me is willing to address the fact that aides are now black. I haven’t seen a white aide in years. And what are the experiences and expectations of young black women? I have somewhere between little and no understanding of the day-to-day lives of these women.

Of my last four aides, two expressed intentions of getting more education and going on to better things; the last two were merely frustrated and had no expectation of getting out of aide work, which is, admittedly, the bottom of the barrel. The women know this, and hate it.

Today, Nakima was very clear in her verbalizations: she refused to get her hands dirty; she demanded that I work with her as an equal; when I was not submissive to her demands, she became outraged and walked off the job. At one point I pointed out to her that she was not here to do me favor; she was being paid to do a job. She replied, “Yeah, and not enough.”

If I am reading the situation correctly, aide work, as paid by Medicaid, is the lowest-paid job a woman can get, so now the only people who will take the job are black women who have no training for anything. It used to be white girls who got pregnant; now it’s any black woman.

And the problem is that black women come with attitude. In the olden days, I think there was among blacks a culture of subservience; you didn’t talk back to whites. What black people said to each other about white people was not the same thing as what black people said to white people.

Now, two generations after the passage of Civil Rights legislation, have we come to a point where young black women feel no restraints to mouthing off to the white women they are supposed to serve? These women are young enough to be my grandchildren yet they talk to me as if we are equals. Home health aide work is a service industry, and they don’t want to serve. Well, okay, I get that. In the United States today, across the board, there is a real crisis of nobody wanting to serve.

There is a subtle line between power and service. I see it all the time in the transportation industry. There are very few people who are able to say, “How can I help you?” What most of them say is “You will do what I tell you to do.” Their position is that they are not here to serve you; they are here to be in charge.

The last aide, Sabrina, when I tried to show her how to wash dishes in my home, snapped “I know how to wash dishes!” Every home is different; every kitchen needs accommodation. Instead of being willing to learn, she demanded the right to do it her way. (Among other things, I don’t have room for a dish drainer in my kitchen; among other things, Sabrina dumped the garbage down the drain.)

Young black women working as aides now feel free to talk to their old white clients the same way they talk to each other. Typically, when white women are stressed, they withdraw into silence; they close up and hunker down. Not black women. They come out swinging, all loud mouth and confrontation.

I am sick and tired of having to fight for the right to have things done my way in my own home. I had a white girl working for me as an aide for a year and half. In her parting, she wrote that I was “organized, reasonable and generous.” Black girls leave yelling that I’m a racist. I’m not, but what they mean is that I won’t let them do whatever they want in my home.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
This entry was posted in disability rights, Medicaid, Onondaga County, Poverty, Power, Values and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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