ABSTRACT

Behind the mask of behavioral conformity imposed on African-American women, acts of resistance, both organized and anonymous, have long existed (Davis 1981, 1989; Terborg-Penn 1986; Hine 1989; Barnett 1993). Despite the strains connected with domestic work, Judith Rollins (1985) asserts that the domestic workers she interviewed appeared to have retained a “remarkable sense of self-worth.” They “skillfully deflect these psychological attacks on their personhood, their adulthood, their dignity, these attempts to lure them into accepting employers’ definitions of them as inferior” (p. 212). Bonnie Thornton Dill (1988a) found that the domestic workers in her study refused to let their employers push them around. As one respondent declared: “When I went out to work . . . my mother told me, ‘Don’t let anybody take advantage of you. Speak up for your rights, but do the work right. If they don’t give you your rights, you demand that they treat you right. And if they don’t, then you quit’ ” (p. 41). Jacqueline Bobo (1995) reports that the U.S. Black women in her study who viewed the film The Color Purple were not passive consumers of controlling images of Black womanhood. Instead, these women crafted identities designed

to empower them. In 1905, a period of heightened racial repression, educator Fannie Barrier Williams viewed the African-American woman not as a defenseless victim but as a strong-willed resister: “As meanly as she is thought of, hindered as she is in all directions, she is always doing something of merit and credit that is not expected of her” (Williams 1987, 151).Williams saw the Black woman as “irrepressible. She is insulted, but she holds up her head; she is scorned, but she proudly demands respect. . . . The most interesting girl of this country is the colored girl” (p. 151).