Poor is the New Black

Trina Talukdar

I have a fractured foot and spend 23 hours and 40 minutes of my day on a bed; the other 20 minutes being in the bathroom- the only other place I’m allowed to travel to, other than back to my bed. I lay there, with 3 remote controls, switching between the television, music system and DVD player. And in this state, yesterday afternoon, I watched “The Help.”

The Help
The Help

And for all those too lazy to IMDB: Set in the pre-Civil Rights Movement America- Jackson, Mississippi- the deep South, to be exact, it shows the journey of a rich, white girl who decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

These black maids  are made to use an outhouse for a bathroom because apparently they spread diseases. And for minimum wage and no social security they bring up white babies with the love and care their Malibu-Barbie mother cannot give them because of their bridge parties and masseur appointments- white babies, who will one day grow up to be exactly like their mothers- the racist discriminating boss of the black nanny who brought them up and taught them everything they know.

And I watched all this, felt sad for the pre-Civil Rights Movement coloured people, and said to myself, “Well, thank God, it’s over, and we live in a non-racist world today!” Phew! That’s dealt with. Until the scene where at an Auction Ball to raise funds for children in Africa, all the white people in their coats and ties are drinking whiskey into the sunrise, while the black helps stand at the sides in their uniform, watching them raise money for black people in Africa, while treating the black people in their own country like bonded labour.

And I remembered my engagement party from a week back- how while I stood on a podium, dressed in worth more than a few hundred thousand rupees, with people congratulating me, gifting a few hundred thousands more, all glitz and glamour, how all the waiters had stood around the hall in their uniform and watched. Yes, there were some fair waiters, and I was fairly dark. But I was rich, and they were all poor.

Our maids still use a different bathroom. They are not allowed to eat at the same table as us. They have a different tea cup and plate and glass for them in our kitchen. They go to different schools than us- not that they are not allowed to come to our school, they just wouldn’t be able to afford it. CAPITALISM IS THE NEW RACISM. And for all those who don’t know the law, and that would be most of our great nation, the minimum wage for a house maid in the Indian Penal Code is Rs. 1800 per month, and none of us pay that. So it’s worse than 1960’s racist America- we don’t even pay minimum wage!

I am never going to employ a maid, and if I do I’ll pay for her children’s education, etc, etc. Yes, and my conscience will be clear. Or, I will do something that will overturn the system, something that will change the world. And that is the choice we all have to make.

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"Poor is the New Black" by @bongbuzz

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  1. Very well put. I see another form of discrimination where I work. Having studied and worked all my life in Government hospitals, most of my patients were poorer than the poorest of the lot. It was really awkward to sometimes see a senior, or a well respected doctor flinch at the prospect of examining a “poor, smelly bugger”. It is sad how you have put it… charity does begin at home. I do not know the IPC code you are talking about but am glad we pay at least close to that amount to our domestic help. And yes, despite everything, I have not shared my dining table with the domestic help. I guess I am as much a part of the problem as anybody else. And it sucks to admit that.