Emphasizing the interconnections of work and family in black women's lives, historian Jones (Wellesley) sees her survey as...


LABOR OF LOVE, LABOR OF SORROW: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present

Emphasizing the interconnections of work and family in black women's lives, historian Jones (Wellesley) sees her survey as countering ""the attitude of reverence"" (identified by literary critic Mary Helen Washington) that means ""we must settle for some idealized nonsense about black women. . ."" While the historiography is competent (though based largely on secondary sources), this same ""attitude of reverence"" prevents Jones' work from achieving the intellectual penetration of Paula Giddings' recent When And Where I Enter (1984, p. 340). Jones, indeed, views her chronicle as ""a testament to the stubbornness of a mother's love in opposition to the dehumanizing demands of the marketplace."" Under slavery, motherhood became resistance, ""for black women's attention to the duties of motherhood deprived whites of full control over them as field laborers, domestic servants, and 'brood-sows."" Women's fieldwork set the model for their Reconstruction roles, with black aspirations to homemaker status decried as ""female loaferism."" Asserting that ""black people. . . rejected a future of materialistic individualism in opposition to the white, middle-class North,"" Jones does recognize the widespread postbellum desire for ""fashionable dresses and many-colored ribbons."" As sharecropping became the dominant agricultural mode, the legacy of slavery weighed heavily. Black women ""bore the universal burdens and took solace from the universal satisfactions of motherhood,"" watching over their ""primitive hearths"" and continuing to ""guard the embers of a smoldering liberty."" In the urban north, limited new opportunities and new burdens emerged, with black mothers held responsible for the environment's fallings. During the Depression, black women worked even harder at home and on the job. ""At the same time, many. . . began to pursue their collective self-interest in the cotton fields, in the ghettos, and at the highest echelons of the federal government."" The post-war years laid the ""roots of two revolutions""--civil rights and feminism. Jones lays out the dilemmas facing black feminists: forming a critique of black male sexism that will not estrange women from male family members, celebrating women's strength without minimizing the ""corrosive effects of racism,"" and organizing with others to promote strength without compromising integrity. Overall, heavy-handed treatment of a rather obvious theme. And for parts of this history, we now have better choices.

Pub Date: March 27, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1985