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Why I read Like One of the Family
My reading of this book directly stemmed from the research I did for the post on the prequel to Gone with the Wind, Ruth’s Journey. I’d never heard of this book before, nor I had I heard of Alice Childress, which surprised me because I took a course in Black authors (in the 80’s, the course was literally called “Major Black Authors”), so I thought I had at least heard of most, ahem, major Black authors.
Luckily, this book was available online through one of my libraries, and I checked it out even though I wasn’t sure I was going to read it.
I did look at it a little, and it grabbed me right away as being similar in style to another book I recently wrote about on The Lois Level, Buttered Side Down. So I kept going, despite concerns that I had so recently done a post on a similar theme.
Why you should read Like One of the Family
Like Buttered Side Down and Anyone Can Do Anything, Like One of the Family is light in tone and draws you in with its conversational style. It also uses humor to make its point, but in truth, a relatively small amount of the book is about working as a domestic. It’s about anyone and anything that crosses the narrator’s path, and it is told in a series of short chapters that represent conversations, or rather, monologues, to the narrator’s good friend Marge.
Some of the chapters deal with the narrator’s experiences working in the homes of various white families and deal with issues such as wild “natural” children and women trying to act/be enlightened.
Other chapters relate the rich, full life that the narrator lives outside of her work life to show you the full range of her experiences.
In short, she’s not part of your family, and she doesn’t want to be. She has her own life and her own family. Hello!
The speaker also has opinions, that she shares through various chapters, on a variety of topics, some having to do with race, and some not.
This book is episodic. There is a very loose plot that flows throughout in the background, but really it can be read in sections as short stories or vignette.
I think this is a great book to read for fun, but it’s also fantastic to use for teaching. Teenagers don’t need to read heavy, dark books in order to learn, and I really don’t like books that treat groups of people that might already be unfamiliar to some kids in a way that makes them like they are chiefly oppressed, or other.
If You Think This Doesn’t Happen Anymore
If you have a caregiver, do you assume that she loves your kids so much that it’s ok to pay her less?
Many of us don’t have a caregiver, but almost all parents send their kids to school.
Do you think it’s ok to pay teachers less because they love the kids so much?
Don’t Miss These Stories from Like One of the Family
“I Go to a Funeral”
Why in the heck do we do so much for people after they are dead when we won’t do for them when they are alive?
“Northerners Can Be So Smug”
“Northerners Can Be So Smug” is strategically placed in the collection just before “Let’s Face It” (below). It is a rare shout out to all the Southerners who took part in the Underground Railroad and also helped undermine and dismantle the Jim Crow laws during the Civil Rights area. Of course it wasn’t nearly as awful to be a White person assisting in these efforts as it was to be a Black southerner and have to live them, but White people did and do risk ostracism and downright violence at times for “going against their own”, and often forfeit the support of family and friends in the process.
I’m going to give it to you in Alice Childress’ own words:
Are we goin’ to forget those youngsters in Alabama who singed a paper sayin’ that they didn’t want to have nothin’ to do with mobs and that they were for the right of a colored student to go to their college? Are we gonna forget the folks who refuse (italics) to join up with klans and such? Are we gonna forget them Southerners who made trips to people’s homes to warn them that bad white folks was comin’ over to molest them? Oh, yes, there’s been a lot of good Southerners who took a stand for the right even when the goin’ was lonely-like and frightenin’, when they got chased from their homes, when ‘friends” wouldn’t talk to them, when they got ugly telephone calls and letters. Oh, my, but it ain’t easy to do right in the midst of all that killin’, burnin’ and mobbin’ that’s goin’ on!
She’s got a few more things to say, about Southerners and Northerners, which I’ll leave you to read for yourself.
“Let’s Face It”
“Let’s Face It” is the climax of the book and is the story of Mildred’s encounter with a relative of one of her employers, who tries to use her to get a quote on the “evils” of desegregation for an Alabama newspaper.
Who was Alice Childress?
Alice Childress was mainly a playwright, which is why you may not be that familiar with her. She did write four other novels; the two most famous are about adolescents, and I do remember them from my teenage years.
There isn’t that much classic African-American Young Adult literature, so these are important to introduce to teenagers.
Most of the Young Adult literature from this era is about white kids…they were just starting to have books about white kids who weren’t middle class…so these are good.
There is a film of A Hero Aint’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich. It only appears to be available on VHS (!), but I did find it on Youtube.
This one also looks good…
And this is an excellent introduction to her dramatic literature so you can see what you like.