This is a guest post for swpd by August, who writes of herself, "I'm a woman of many privileges: middle class, cissexual, educated, and temporarily able-bodied, just to name a few. My goals in anti-oppression work are to unlearn the ways in which I unknowingly do harm to others every day, to hone my skills in communicating with those who do harm to me, and to arm my daughter with the tools she will need to navigate the intersections of her privileges and oppressions."
I am a woman of color, and a recent interaction between my mother and a white friend of hers has me wondering if there is something else that white people do: expect women of color to care for their children.
My parents have been running a daycare out of their home for over a decade now. They are only licensed to care for 8 children at once, so the loss of even one child is a huge financial blow to them -- an almost 13% household pay cut. Many parents have had siblings in the daycare simultaneously, so if such a family decides to leave (for whatever reason, usually a move), they may remove 2 or 3 children at once. This can be devastating to my folks for obvious reasons, as they can instantly lose a quarter to a third of their income for an unknown amount of time.
After years of experience, my mother (who makes more of the business decisions than my father) has learned that in order to keep themselves from being totally screwed over by these changes, she needs to be proactive in finding clients to replace those who are not in it for the long haul. In other words, once a parent makes it clear that they are currently looking for care elsewhere, my mom starts looking for a replacement immediately and, if necessary, will replace that child regardless of the parents' readiness. She doesn't do this because she likes to, she does it because it means the difference between being able to pay the mortgage or not.
My mother's white friend has expressed her displeasure with this practice. She thinks that my mom should just defer to the time schedule of uncommitted parents, passing up all other opportunities to fill the spot elsewhere, and take the financial hit until they can find another child to fill the spot (which frequently takes months and sometimes even upwards of a year). This would obviously put my parents in a very vulnerable position, but this (white) friend expects my parents to sacrifice their financial well-being in order to take care of these (white) children in order to not inconvenience their (white) parents.
This disagreement reminds me of a situation that I experienced as a teenager. At 17, I babysat two young girls for a white family on a regular basis. My fee for babysitting was $5 per hour for one child, plus $2 per hour for each additional child. I was very upfront about these rates and even had them printed on my business cards. When this family had a third child, they asked me to babysit again when the newborn was a couple months old. At the end of the night, they underpaid me -- they did not add in the additional $2 per hour for the new baby. I corrected them (as nicely as possible, because talking about money made me very uncomfortable) by pointing out the fee scale that was on my business card, one of which was on their refrigerator. They paid me the difference, and while I did sense a bit of awkwardness about it, I attributed it to my own discomfort in talking about money.
A few days later, the mother of the girls left a handwritten letter taped to my parents' front door. It was addressed to me, and it listed all the reasons that I should have been gracious enough to babysit three kids for the price of two, and how dare I be so ungrateful as to ask for more money for more work, and how they could get a better babysitter elsewhere. I had known and sat for this family for years, I loved their children and they loved me. The letter totally blew my mind, not just because of its passive aggressive nature, but because I was essentially being chastised and punished (she told me that she would never ask me to watch her kids again, and they never did) for not watching her infant for free.
I have to wonder if this is a common white tendency, to not just expect women of color to care for their children, but to do so even if it is unfair or leaves us in a vulnerable position.
The babysitting incident has bothered me for years, and the recent incident with my mom has been bothering me a lot as well (even more than it bothers her, I think). My very first reaction was that racism did not play into it, until I remembered reading a comment thread somewhere (I thought it was on swpd, but I couldn't find it again) in which several black women shared their experiences about white people just assuming that they would care for their children, even when those women were invited guests to social events that just happened to have white children present. (I've had that experience myself, actually, even in public situations where the white people are total strangers to me.) None of the black folks in my mom's life seem to expect my mother to make herself vulnerable this way; only white people.
The experience I had with the white family left me hurt and angry, and I suppose I'm still trying to figure out what I did wrong, if anything, to deserve such treatment by a family that I thought had appreciated me.
I would definitely be interested in hearing what swpd readers think of all this, as I'm trying to work through it, and I do wonder if I'm making something out of nothing. It just bothers me so much.