Delicately Unbearable Racism

Pedro Henrique Ferreira
It occurs to me that White women, for the most part, don't know how to manage their black employees, especially when we fill domestic roles, which seem to come eerily close to being mammy or slave positions. And friends of White women surely don't understand how to deal with the black domestic in the room.

I have worked as a nanny for 9 years and as many families. I am a Brooklyn Born, Rutgers College Educated African American Nanny with lots of friends and a great sense of humor. I have great references. I work as a nanny because I love it, it pays well and I am great with children.

I seem to notice that a lot of racism rears it's head on the beach. I spend a lot of time on the beach and meet my employer's friends and children. I see some of the same people all of the time. I am quietly friendly and polite. I don't cower or crouch in the background. I play with the children and speak openly.

But the questions get tiring. So let me answer everything you seem to want to ask me while I am chasing a three year old into the Ocean or taking a break and reading a French mystery on my pink flamingo beach towel.

Yes, I swim. No, I don't know why so many people seem not to swim. Yes I am aware Jamaica is an Island with miles of beach. I have heard that many Jamaicans don't swim. I swim. Also, I am not Jamaican, nor am I Caribbean. I'm an American.

No, I don't play tennis. Yes, I have strong thighs. I am not a particularly fast runner, but I do wonder are you asking because of my strong thighs or because you imagine I've had so much practice running from the law? No, my parents don't live in Trinidad, remember, I am an American. My parents live TOGETHER in Brooklyn, DUMBO. My father is a retired machinist and my mother is a NYC kindergarten teacher.

No, I don't think I have that "steel wool hair" or that "good black hair". I have my hair. Yes it gets wet. No, I am not afraid to get it wet, did you see me in the ocean? I don't want to answer your questions about whether or not this is my real hair. Is that your real hair color? I don't want to educate you on hair extensions and weaves. No, I cannot approximate the cost of a full weave.

No, I have never gotten sunburned, Yes, I wear sunblock religiously because my health and skin is important to me. Yes, most of the children I care for are white and tend to be fair. No the parents don't need to worry about me "remembering" sun block. I get it. Did I mention I have a Bachelors of Art in Mathematics? And I'm a fairly functional member, of society? And I've worked with children for over 12 years.

No, I don't have children. No, I don't send money home to my children in Jamaica, remember, I'm a Brooklyn gal? Yes, I imagine that would be hard to work here and send money to support your children in another country. I have no other information about said arrangements, but thank you for your concerned and sympathetic eye contact.

I can't speak to whether Black Women are notoriously hard to work for, but you phrased it in such a way that you clearly don't need my answer. I have worked as a nanny for a rainbow of families and they have all treated me well. Why would any nanny stay with a family that didn't treat them with respect and appreciation.

No, I don't think my boss hired me because she could be sure that the kids wouldn't accidentally call me Mommy or the Mommy and me teacher would assume I was the baby's mom. I think she hired me because I was the best. It's horrifically offensive to assume that the mother hired me because the father "wouldn't be tempted."

Yes, there tend to be a lot of Black Baptists. No, I don't care to talk about religion with you. And on that note, unless I know you and we are having an actual political conversation, don't ask me about Obama. "Let me guess you voted for Obama both times," what is that, humor? I love to talk politics and religions but I also believe in tact and grace and the place for that isn't with people I just met on the beach surrounded by shovels and sandy Chips Ahoy cookies.

"You've got that good black skin," I was told at a barbecue last week. As opposed to what? The regular, garden variety, bad black skin?

I am not hardened. I have not lived a hard life. I did not grow up in public housing. My parents graduated high school. My mother had her Master's degree. I don't have a recipe for fried chicken for you nor can I tell you "the secret to good grits." What is my favorite food? Bacon, lettuce and tomato. (No, I'm not Muslim and no, I don't know why young black men seem to be popping up as Muslims.)

Yes, this is my real nose. Are you asking because it isn't as wide as you think it should be? What music do I listen to? Jazz and 70's soul. I don't have an opinion to share with you on police brutality or #blacklivesmatter. Thank you for clarifying that all lives matter.

And my favorites, how do you spell your name? THE REGULAR WAY!
and "you are so well spoken." True That.

Thanks for listening,


CN said...

Have people actually said/asked all of these things? How unbelievably ignorant. I don't think I would be able to keep my mouth shut.

this_nick said...

A big YASSSS to almost everything here. I hope your bosses back you up in however you choose to answer (or not answer) such questions. A few of these may not be as racially tinged as you think (many of us working amongst affluent people get asked the tennis question, I sometimes think with an eye towards getting cheap tennis instruction for their kids.) But some of these are so blatantly racially charged it's hard to believe people don't have more tact and consideration (and I know they often don't).

The only thing I would disagree here with is the idea that "white women, for the most part" don't know how to manage black employees. That's no more true than if you reverse the races here. The white women you encounter as a highly-educated woman moving in affluent circles aren't indicative of white women in general, thank God. I'd agree with you that's probably accurate in terms of white women who have multiple domestic employees, though.

Finally, I hope when people ask you about blacklivesmatter, you reply "yes - they do!"

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you put up with this. White people can become very uncomfortable when it comes to race.

I'm going to say something, and I won't respond to a debate, because I'm not here to debate, but the things we see in society, even from the earliest of ages, has always been that white is superior (I would like to a few examples, but I'm not in the mood to go searching for them). I'm an activist, I attend many meetings, protests, and talks about the current climate in race and it is evident- racism is bred into white people from the earliest ages and you have to unlearn it. Might not think it is, but I've heard many people say that they've caught themselves thinking something of someone of a different race before they knew them (black women are inherently violent/black men are scary, whatever the thought.) That's a form a racism. It can be unlearned, it just takes time and patience, and work.

(Que the white people getting so upset)

One of the reasons why white people don't think they are racist is because they're not a part of the KKK or lynching or refusing service or drinking from another fountain. They think that because we've moved beyond that part of racism, there's no way they could be racist. But now it's more covert like how sexism can be. Questions like that, assumptions, etc it's racist but they don't see it that way. Until they do they will never change and you'll be constantly dealing with the ignorance.

Again, I'm really sorry you deal with this, I can't imagine how upsetting it could be.

(btw, I'm white).

this_nick said...

Along these lines, I encourage every white person (ESPECIALLY if you believe you don't benefit from systemic white privilege) to read the recent piece "I, Racist" by John Metta. (Google search it if this link won't post):

Anonymous said...

I have biracial charges (Mom is African American, Dad is White). Have definitely heard some crazy things about their hair, skin color, how they don't look alike, etc, etc, etc. It's crazy what people think is okay to say and ask.

Anonymous said...

You have quite the chip on your shoulder. Relax. Stop looking for racism where it doesn't exist.

CN said...

Are you white? I'm assuming you are. One of the big benefits of white privilege is the ability to ignore racism and/or believe it's no longer an issue.

Anonymous said...

^^ mmmhmm. Those comments are what is known as microaggressions, to hide racism. Pick up a damn book and read about it. Or you could shut your mouth and just listen to people who experience it. You don't get to decide what's racist and what's not. White privilege at it's finest.

this_nick said...

Leave it to a white person to take umbrage with someone protesting the racist way in which they're treated. Seriously, educate yourself or kindly STFU.

Sincerely, another white person who'd like you to stop embarrassing the rest of us