Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Butlers revisited

Butlers revisited


Keya Jones

It is an undeniable box office sensation, but “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” has captured more than just the love of movie audiences. By juxtaposing the turmoil of the civil rights movement with the experiences of dignified men who served for decades in the White House, the film authentically captures a defining period in American history. During the era depicted in the movie, which stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, the stark realities of racism gave rise to a movement for justice that the world’s most powerful leaders were forced to grapple with in their most private moments. With many of those issues — votings rights, educational inequality and inner city violence — still making headlines today, the film has opened new lines of dialogue on just how far this nation has come in terms of race relations.

In Las Vegas, which has seen its share of racial injustices, the service industry portrayed in the film continues to act as the hinge on which the city’s economy swings. We recently spoke to Keya Jones — who worked as a butler at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas for one year before earning a promotion to guest services manager — about her experiences and how they compare to what is seen in the film.

Are there many female African-American butlers?

Well, at The Cosmopolitan there is only myself and one other lady. But there are about four other female hosts who are not African-American.

Is the demeanor of the present-day butler similar to what is depicted in the film?

There are similarities as it relates to not being seen or heard by your clients. But today it is a little more relaxed, and The Cosmopolitan has its own brand and culture, which is modern and forward. You still add the special touches while being a silent ghost that is expected to just come and go.

Do you serve the very rich and high rollers?

Yes, definitely. We can talk to our clients, but you don’t want to be too casual or relaxed. In contrast to the movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” it is not as limiting and racist. We all know that racism still exists, but it has changed its tone a bit — it is more undercover. The culture of being a butler is to serve, and to be quiet, and to give your clients an experience of service that they are used to having. The people I have served are very wealthy people, and in order for them to keep coming back to our resort they have to have certain experiences that are expected. A certain language and lingo must be used. A butler is a highly trained and skilled position, and is not something that just anyone can qualify for. There are certain hotel properties that require you to have a butler certification before being hired.

What are some challenges you faced as a female butler?

There are certain dangers that come along with this position for a female. Also, working in Las Vegas, in a partying atmosphere, contributes to certain incidents. I remember one time when I worked a graveyard shift there was a situation where my counterparts stepped in and wouldn’t allow me to be involved.

What were your tasks as a butler?

Similar to what was displayed in the movie: Pressing and ironing clothes; packing and unpacking the client’s clothes; shining shoes; setting up for dining; set up the dining experience in the client’s private suite; running errands; preparing the client’s room with all their requested necessities before they arrive; make sure that the refrigerators stocked with all the client’s requested items. This is what we call “staging the room” before the client arrives.

Is confidentiality requested?

Yes, it is a part of the butler’s code and culture.

What was your expected attire as a butler?

As women we wore a dress about two inches above the knee. Hosiery was required and a certain amount of polish in terms of impeccable hair and nails. We were to remain understated — not seen or heard.

Who have been some of your top celebrity clients?

Well, I really can’t reveal that, but we have had two top boxers and a computer software magnate, just to mention a couple.

What would you like to tell us about being a butler that we might not be aware of?

I want to encourage more African-Americans to consider the hospitality industry and become butlers. There are not a lot of us in the industry, and we are kind of being boxed out. Being a butler is very lucrative and it can lead to greater career opportunities with the people and clientele that you meet. Some of the very wealthy are indeed great people.

Shirley Bailey, Anna Bailey, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Las Vegas Black Image copublisher Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud and Carolyn Booker attend a Las Vegas screening of "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

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