Connecting the Dots: Anti-Black Racism & Domestic Employment

The Domestic Worker Industry is Inextricably Linked with Anti-Black Racism

To fully understand the connection between police violence and killings of Black people to domestic workers rights, we have to connect the legacy of slavery and anti-Black racism to the criminalization of domestic workers, the passage of labor policy that developed using this racist lens, and the ongoing racism faced by domestic workers in the United States, in many of the homes where they work and beyond.

Black and white photograph of black woman wearing a long checkerd dress holding a white child from 1858.

The historic roots of anti-blackness and white supremacy began with the rise of chattel slavery and colonization of the Americas. While the majority of enslaved Africans worked in the fields, an estimated 15% worked as domestic servants on plantations in the South.

Even though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1789, Black people were regularly enslaved as criminal punishment. After the abolition of slavery, many Black women worked as domestic workers, but were still criminalized within the work. In 1872, Emma Jones was sentenced to 2 years in state convict camps for not returning clothes to her employer. In 1892, Susan Conyers, a cook for a white family, was arrested for arguing with her employer.

From 1908 through the 1930s, several states forced Black women prisoners to serve as domestic workers for white households as a part of their sentence. Workers were not paid and were forced to work with the threat of re-incarceration.

Similar to how care workers of color have been blamed for the impacts of COVID-19, domestic workers were blamed for the spread of tuberculosis in the 1910s. Black people were the hardest hit by TB while suffering from limited access to housing, health care and food. White people attributed the spread to domestic workers who were cleaning their homes and washing their laundry, which led to attacks on domestic workers’ privacy and autonomy. Some employers even argued that workers who refused to be tested for contagious diseases should be fined and imprisoned — another example of criminalizing domestic workers.

As a concession to racist southern lawmakers, the Federal Labor Standards Act, passed in the 1930s, continued to perpetuate anti-Black…

Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network

We are a national network of employers of nannies, house cleaners home attendants, and allies advocating for domestic workers rights.