Black Girls

Migrant Domestic Workers and Colonial Legacies


In today’s Europe, migrant domestic workers are indispensable in supporting many households which, without their employment, would lack sufficient domestic and care labour. Black Girls collects and explores the stories of some of the first among these workers. They are the Afro-Surinamese and the Eritrean women who in the 1960s and 70s migrated to the former colonising country, the Netherlands and Italy respectively, and there became domestic and care workers. Sabrina Marchetti analyses the narratives of some of these women in order to powerfully demonstrate how the legacies of the colonial past have been, at the same time, both their tool of resistance and the reason for their subordination.

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Sabrina Marchetti, Ph.D (2010), Utrecht University, is currently Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. She works on issues of gender, migration and labour.
List of Figures

1. Keywords
1. Postcoloniality
2. Black Europe
3. Memory and identity
4. Intersectionality
5. Body work
6. Home
7. Tactics


1. Colonialism and slavery
2. The Independence
3. Moving from Suriname to the Netherlands
4. Migration and racism in the Netherlands
5. Living in Rotterdam
6. Afro-Surinamese women in the Dutch care sector

1. Eritrea’s history and Italian colonialism
2. Towards the Independence
3. Eritrean migration to Italy
4. Migration and racism in Italy
5. Eritreans in Rome
6. Eritrean women in the Italian domestic sector


3. Colonial Acculturation and Belonging
1. Black Dutch
2. The ‘ambivalence’ of bonds
3. The case of school education

4. Paramaribo and Asmara as ‘Culture-Contact Zones’
1. Separation and survival of domestic slavery
2. A hierarchical cultural contamination
3. Spatial propinquity and cultures
4. Hierarchies within ‘familiarity’
5. The case of mass and popular culture

5. Postcolonial Encounters: Arriving in Italy and the Netherlands
1. Class and belonging after the migration
2. Asymmetries of recognition
3. The legacy of slavery


6. A Labour Niche for Postcolonial Migrant
1. Niche formation and coloniality of power
2. Substitution across class and ‘race’/ethnicity
3. Religious figure and employment
4. The ‘good’ job
5. Agencies and ‘ethnic’ representations

7. Narratives and Practices of Work and Identity
1. Everyday (domestic) practices and identity
2. Rhythms and gestures of care
3. Self-identification between care, cleaning and servitude
4. Time, body and enactment of power

8. ‘Ethnicisation’ of Care and Domestic Skills
1. ‘Ethnicisation’ and the right personality
2. Subservience as a skill
3. Familiarity with domestic work as a social position
4. Troubling reversals of hierarchies
5. The ambivalence of a caring personality
6. The case of food and cooking

9. Racism at Work, Under Colonial Legacies
1. Racism, ressentiment and slavery
2. Home care as a ‘scenario of racism’
3. Spatial confinement
4. Bodies: wearing inferiority
5. Re-enacting colonial times


I - Notes on the fieldwork
II – Notes on the interviewees

Anyone interested in the oral history of paid migrant work in Europe, as well as a broader readership of postcolonial, migration and gender studies.