Mistaken for the Help

What Women Really Think
April 13 2010 10:56 AM

Mistaken for the Help

Leah Ward Sears, the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, whose name has appeared on the short list of potentenial nominees to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, just wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the indignities she’s suffered as a black woman in the South being mistaken for the help. She writes of being thought of as the rest room attendant, a cocktail waitress, and a resort worker. I absolutely understand the point she is making about what people assume is the position of a black woman. And the rudeness with which people approach her is appalling. But Sears' story is also strangely condescending itself to people in service positions. After walking through a resort with her children and being asked, "Hey, girl, where’s the spa?" she writes, "I, like many women, tend to turn on myself when such faux pas occur. 'Was I laughing so loudly she assumed I was the help?’ I've asked myself. 'Were my clothes too loud or cheap looking?’ I've pondered." In pointing out people’s predjudiced assumptions, Sears perpetuates some of her own.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.