KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – For hundreds of years, Black women were cast in the role of “mammie”, caring for children that weren’t their own and getting relatively little in return. As a young Black nanny, knowing our historically vital yet discriminatory position within white families, it often makes me wonder if I made the correct decision in accepting this job.
Most who know me are aware of my occupation and that the darling toddler I care for is white. Her race was not a factor in whether I took this job or not, however to society it’s often made to be a big concern.
The first time I took Layla to the park I was met by a stranger who felt it was their right to ask “Is she yours?” When I replied that I was her nanny I received the most humiliating reply. “I knew she wasn’t yours, you’re much too dark to be her mother.”
Having it pointed out that we couldn’t possibly be related makes it hard to not question if caring for white children is really worth the scrutiny. I’m not saying every Black woman who cares for a white child has faced this problem, but from my experience when I’m out with Layla and grilled about our relationship, it makes me feel as though I’m doing something wrong. It’s as though I as a Black woman should be nowhere near this white baby.
As strangers ask endless questions I can’t help but look at Layla and think how unfair it is for her. She loves me and I love her and to be honest, neither of us can understand why that can’t be enough for some people.
Unfortunately, because of our obvious colour difference she can no longer go to the park to play the way a child should without race being thrown into the mix. Although thankfully Layla is too young to understand these issues, she can still sense my upset and that breaks my heart.
Having worked in the childcare field for years, the “mammie” figure has always been in the back of my mind. As a Black woman caring for white children I can’t help but wonder if I will always just be seen as “the help”.
I find myself questioning this job for fear of accidentally conforming to a stereotype that was once created to oppress us. “Oh you work as a nanny?” It’s hard to enjoy my job when this is the type of comment I get, if it was sincere there would be no problem. However, when I am asked that, it has a snotty tone to it as if to say “ew, you work as a nanny” or “that’s all you’re good for”.
After seeing lower class, minorities (my people) in these career positions it gets in my head and self sabotages my plans. On one hand it makes me believe I will only ever be “the help” and am not worthy of anything more, yet on the flip side it makes me feel ashamed for the line of work I do. When race isn’t brought up, working as a nanny is an extremely fulfilling career, as educating little minds is something I am very passionate about.
As Layla and I move on to the next chapters of our lives, our time together must draw to a close. She has taught me so much in the period we have spent together, I feel that I have learned a lot about who I am as a person.
I love Layla as if she were my own and I know she loves me too and that’s all it takes. As difficult as it can be to ignore the ignorance we face, I know that I have helped her grow into an amazing little girl and for that I know my job is complete.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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