Thursday, January 28, 2010

expect women of color to care for their children

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.


  1. Wow, your babysitting story just recalled one of my own. I'm also a WOC and as a young teenager, I babysat for a white family in the neighborhood. Given that both of the kids had major behavioral problems, I probably undercharged for my services, but hey, I was 14/15 and it was money. When I was 15, I got a "real" job at a restaurant, and from 16 onward, I held retail positions until I went away to college. One summer, when I was 16, this family, who I would still sit for occasionally, needed a sitter with little notice. It was for a night when i had a shift at my job at the mall (which paid much better and which I was already committed to working). I told the mom that I was unable to watch her kids, and she reacted with anger and that same "How dare you refuse? You should be grateful" reaction that you experienced. I was never asked to watch her kids again. The whole exchange left me baffled, but it finally became clear to me that she did not see my needs as an individual as a concern, only that she was inconvenienced. I don't know how much of this to attribute to race and how much to the disrespect I often felt as a teenager when dealing with adults.

  2. You know what's funny (and by funny, I mean absolutely pathetic) about your mom's friend's expectation:

    She's far more concerned with the awkward position a parent is put into in suddenly not having a place for childcare than in the even more awkward position your mother and father are put into by the uncertainy that comes with an indecisive parent.

    This friend has a hierarchy of whose needs are more important and your mother her personal friend is not at the top. How crazy is that?

    Anyway, this is a very interesting topic. I don't have any direct experience, but with the addition of your teenaged anecdote, I'm wondering how much of this plays to the view that (too) many white people have that black folks are work horses. Apparently we're shiftless and lazy but when you do get us working, we go long.

    As a sidenote, Autumn, I really felt bad for 17-yr old you. That was totally unnecessary on that family's part. You get a service, you pay the fee. Please and thanks.

  3. The babysitting incident is infuriating! As is your mom's friend's insistence that she actually BANKRUPT herself in order to accommodate her flaky customers. Your insights into this behavior are eye-opening. Thanks for sharing, this is a great piece.

    I know that sometimes when a friend says/does something rude, I may give them the benefit of the doubt because it's coming from a friend. But if I hear about the exact same conversation occurring where the offender is not a friend of mine, I am able to see it more for what it is. Perhaps this is why your mom is not as upset?

  4. Very interesting post. What also stood out for me when I read both of your experiences was that they highlighted the fact that people do not expect that black women have a right to run profitable, proper businesses. I find generally that people do not take us seriously as business entrepreneurs, but tend to simply regard us as people who just work for other people, no matter how stressful or unprofitable the situation, or how crappy the circumstances.
    For me, I had a neighbour who I got along with really well and who quite a few times would ask me to babysit her kids, even though I told her I wasn't really keen to do so. I wondered if class also played a part of it in my case because she had a high position at one of the Big Four firms and I was just an office assitant. I wondered if she felt I was poor and automatically needed the money or something, because she seemed to think it was something I would jump at doing. I didn't need the money and I don't want to babysit anyone's kids. I like children but I just don't want to be responsible for anyone else's kids, even for a few hours.
    Eventually I did do it just once after she asked numerous times. I didn't take any money for it, even though she insisted. I just told her I would do it once as a favour while she and her husband went out. Her kids were very lovely and well-behaved but it really wasn't my thing at all and I wouldn’t do it again.

  5. Hey, just wanted to comment on this post because my sister experienced the exact same thing.
    I'm a 24yo black girl from Holland, and recently my younger sister had to watch this boy on a very short notice. The black father (my dad's good friend) normally arranged it, but as he was out of town his (white) wife did. The night before my sis called her to go over a few things. The boy's mum then told her she had to babysit one more kid and take the two of them to a breakdancing class. My sis agreed to do so, if she gave her additional money for the 2nd kid, tickets and transport for all of them.
    The next morning when she arrived at the house, she saw that the mother had left only two tickets - the cildren's. She asked for the money. The woman had the nerve to refuse, because 'it wouldn't be such an effort to watch one more child'. She also wanted her to pay for everything else. Only when my sister kindly told her that she disagreed and was going to leave, she budged and angrily got her wallet. A few days later, my sister called the husband to tell him this. He didn't know anything and would discuss it with her.
    What baffled me was that I, and my sister, had babysat the son for years and when this one time the woman had to handle it, things went wrong. As they are a rich family, money really can't have been the motive for this disrespectful behavior.

  6. I think in "some" privileged white eyes a black nanny reminds them of this...
    Something similar takes place in this antebellum "nanny portrait," in which the intended subject is the white child, and the client includes the family's black slave or servant to indicate a class status: we are rich enough to afford this nanny."

    I am reminded of the Slave lullaby: "All the Pretty Horses" Found here:

    Its also mentioned in, The Black Book, by Middleton A. Harris

    "It was originally sung by an African American slave who could not take care of her baby because she was too busy taking care of her master's child. She would therefore sing this song to her master's child."

    Its just too hard for some whites to tear themselves away from such old and racist notions about us. It goes to illustrate just how precious white children are viewed in this society; and how little we are valued in comparison. Hope I didn't offend.

  7. You are not making something out of nothing. The phenomenon that you describe is racist. And it's insulting. And it's infuriating.

    I have story after story of similar white attitudes toward financial matters involving PoC, especially when those financial matters involve child or home care. For example, a white woman I know was disgusted when her long employed, full-time, live-in maid, a Mexican woman, retired. The WW was disgusted that the new maid, also a Mexican woman, wanted $100 per week when the old maid had earned $73 a week. This was not 1950 either, this was about eleven years ago, in Texas.

    I have also worked numerous jobs (not childcare or housework) where I've worked my way up over years to a wage that a white person (with no experience and less education than I have) is given when they are hired. I've also had it happen that they are hired at a *higher* wage than I am earning after years. It's worse if they're a white male. (A boss, a white guy natch, once told me that if he wanted more women to apply for a job that he'd advertise the salary $5,000/year less than he'd pay a man.)

    The problem in my case? Clearly it is that I am not white. I am Latina and the stereotype is that we are all hot-blooded chicas cranking out babies in between cleaning hotel rooms for minimum wage.

    It's fucking infuriating.

  8. SWPD: expect WOC to care for their children and also to clean their house.

    I was surprised when my (white) friend said than their (Filipina) nanny cleans their house "SOOOO well." They weren't surprised that she cleaned, just delighted at how well she does it. We're talking way beyond picking up after the kids: cleaning the fridge and oven, ironing .... When I expressed surprise that their nanny did housework, the reply was something like: "She's there all day, what else is she going to do?" Uhm, take care of your kids? When I'm alone all day with my kids (I'm on maternity leave), the apartment is a complete mess by the time they go to bed. And it's MY place - if anyone should want it clean, it's ME. The employer has an obligation to provide the employee with a clean, pleasant working environment, not the other way around, right?

    (Full disclosure: I'm a WW and when my husband, who is Chinese, and I are both working, his parents take turns taking care of one of our kids.)

  9. As long as white supremacy is in place, any non-white ( especially black) woman babysitting for a white family is mammying with pay - and are treated as such many times. SMH

  10. Oooh this is one of the bigger problems in the white feminist movement, and one of the reasons it gets the name "bourgeois feminism."

    There has traditionally been *such* an emphasis on getting women in the workplace, and on the ability of women to have both A Career And Children. Well, given that in the early days of modern feminism WOC simply weren't hired, when white women went to work who did they hire to take care of their kids? WOC, of course. A pattern that has continued. I wonder if that is a contributing factor here?

    I'm pretty sure Brodkin talks about this in How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America, if anyone is interested.

  11. Admittedly my experience with babysitting other people's children is limited to a few families when I was a teenager, but I must say I was never treated like that. (I'm a white female.)

    This feels like something similar to an ongoing issue up here in Toronto, which is that a lot of nannies are hired from the Philippines and other areas (primarily Asian but also some Islander) and then are sometimes horribly mistreated when they come over here. But there's little they can do about it, because they need to be here for a certain amount of time in order to qualify to become Canadian permanent residents, and so they can't afford to piss off their employers and lose their jobs. So they get taken advantage of, forced to clean and other things, as well as taking care of the kids; sometimes they aren't given the money they deserve; etc. It's intersectional I think, they're getting taken advantage of both because they're PoC and because they're immigrants in a very tenuous position. I live in an area where a lot of people have nannies, and I rarely see white nannies; it's almost all Filipino. (Oddly, if I go about six blocks north from where I live, the nannies become predominantly from the Caribbean.) I've long wondered if maybe that's because the clients feel fine with paying WoC less than they'd feel obligated to pay a white woman, and/or asking the WoC to do more, etc.

  12. This is fascinating stuff. I don't know that I'd ever heard of this entitlement these white families or mothers are displaying in the mentioned examples? As if letting a WoC watch their children should be a partial reward to the woman in question already and anything else would almost be putting them out.

    I'm afraid I'd have to confront something like that head on. I mean it's very obvious and I don't really see what else it could be passed off as. Who walks around with this sense of entitlement when it comes to other people's time and finances? Crazy.

  13. In addition to race, I think class* and age (as the first commentor suggested) may also play a large role in the assumptions and entitlment expressed by the white folks in these scenarios.

    *Perhaps not as obvious in situations like thesciencegirls' where people in the same neighborhood might have similar econimic backgrounds, but there is still the hierarchical distinction between the person providing a service and the person paying for a service.

  14. hmmm. this post and comments also brought up memories for me. I grew up in a white (fairly waspy) household where there was a weird selfless--selfish continuum that applied more to girls/women than to boys/men. In this way of thinking, putting your own needs first--no matter how reasonable--was "selfish", and especially so if, in taking care of yourself, you were putting someone else out in some way. Thinking in this way, it was natural to be angry at, and feel threatened by, anyone else who didn't share this ethos, and put their own self-worth first.

    It just occurs to me that a similar way of thinking may be informing the behavior of various white women discussed above. And perhaps there's a way that this kind of thinking intersects with thinking about race in some way I'm not seeing yet.

  15. I don't know if class plays a factor in this or not. You probably have more instances to compare it to than I would. I only know my end of it but I'm white. I bring up class because I was working class and single when my children were in their preschool years. Having been raised by loving caregivers since my mom was single too, I have always viewed the women who cared for my sons (the ladies in my neighborhood who offered to watch them) as professionals who knew my children as well as or even better than I did, as well as like family. Expecting them to revolve around me, or to take short payments, or even paying late is a concept so foreign to me. All this time I've been assuming everyone felt the same way about their children's caregivers and now I know differently. It's...quite disturbing that people would think that way about your parents or do what they did to the other commenters on here.

  16. As a teenager I refused to babysit for whites unless they were my father's students ('cause I knew I wouldn't get any lip outta them).

    When I babysat for POC, no problems. I was simply asked to watch the kid--I didn't have to cook or clean. If they came home and found that I'd washed some dishes or made French toast, they automatically paid me extra. If I was called on short notice, I was prepaid extra. I also made a point to settle "tabs" in my father's presence.

    I am now extremely grateful for those decisions. Because what I'm reading here is utter bullshit; it is awful to be treated like that, and then to spend years feeling like the problem was you, and not the miserable screaming ingrate who has the audacity to drop the "how dare you" bomb.


  17. I forgot to mention, in my story above. The woman then called my (white) mother and asked her to tell me to change my shift at my mall job to accomodate her. I cannot imagine behaving that way, but... she did.

    I think class does play a role in this, and that part of that is the perception of the babysitter or nanny's class. Like, as Nia mentioned above, oh this black girl must be poor; I should offer her a few bucks to wait on me hand and foot. It's not wholly unlike being mistaken for the staff at stores and restaurants.

  18. This thread makes me shudder. Why on earth would white women just assume that black women have nothing better to do than babysit our children for cheap or free? It is a mindboggling expression of privilege.

  19. Yep, been there myself. I sat for a few of mine and my husband's friends a coupla years back, just because I thought it wouldn't be that big of a deal while my daughter was a tot. But after dealing with those same attitudes listed above, I flat out stopped. I'm also annoyed at the white families who assume that I have nothing better to do besides watch their kids...and they always approach my husband first, so that he can field the question to me. One family had a son with severe behavioral problems, and I did not feel comfortable having him around my baby. Of course, they were angry, and confused(I shouldn't be able to resist right?), but I'm sure they got over it. I know I did.

    Not going to be anyone's mammy/nannybot for any price, especially at the risk of my own child's safety.

  20. As a former au pair and nanny I really feel your pain. I feel like at this point I should know better, but it still always manages to blow my mind how many people will disrespect/underpay/take advantage of the people who are literally RAISING THEIR CHILDREN.

    Something I found interesting too was that even beyond the families that I worked for, when acquaintances found out I looked after children in some professional capacity they would pounce. I'd find myself being invited places only to realize once I was there that they kind of had the expectation that I would just help look after the kids in attendance as if I'm some sort of free babysitting service. It's like in their heads they must be going, "Oh aren't we lucky! I mean she's a NANNY she's gotta love kids! It's almost like we're doing her a favor!"

    When will people realize that we (ALL kinds of paid caregivers) are not performing our jobs simply out of the goodness of our hearts and out of our love for those to whom we give care but because it's also how we make our living, pay our bills and keep a roof over our head.

  21. Bourgeouis feminism has not challenged the domestic division of labor to any effect. Too many fathers think that watching their own children is "babysitting", a special treat for the mothers. If the fathers got off their duffs and took responsibility for labor involved in child-rearing and household maintenance, would fewer couples hire nannies full-time and expect them to clean as well?

  22. Is your mom's friend a client, or just a friend?

    If she's just a friend (in other words if your mom isn't watching her kid) then I'm really confused about her reaction. I don't see why she would expect your mother to take such a severe pay cut for no other reason than 'niceness' - but then again I tend to be very pragmatic about these sorts of things.

    I'm sorry to hear about your babysitting job, I can sort of see why they wouldn't think the rates went up if you didn't specify it before you came, but their response afterward was just uncalled for. A family that can afford 3 kids can afford to give a couple extra dollars to a child babysitting.

    So no I don't think you're making too big a deal about it, I think your mom's friend is a jerk, and she might be one of those types of people who will always disagree with someone else's choice just because she can, I've known people like that. But your family needs to do what's best for them, because if they don't provide for themselves, nobody else is going to do it for them.

  23. It's interesting that people on this thread have tried to make this about class and feminism. While I agree that the fundamentals of intersectionality apply, this is not something that one upper class white woman would necessarily do to another lower class white woman. This *is* something that whites do to Black women and Latina women and other women of color, regardless of class or economic status.

    And while the "mammy" stereotype is potentially applicable, it doesn't begin to explain the experiences of non-Black women of color, does it?

    The problem is not limited to American soil either.

    When I was in Singapore, I did some reading on the Filipina and Malaysian women who work as domestics there. My interest was prompted by an article in a Singaporean newspaper in which a woman was imprisoned for beating her Filipina maid, stomping on her foot so hard that she broke it, forcing her to eat rotten food as punishment, as well as other abuses. Women of color who work as maids in Singapore often work around the clock, without days off for the length of their contracts (2 or more years in some cases), though the average time off is one day per month. They sometimes work without pay for six months or longer until their "placement fees" are repaid, are subject to medical tests that include tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, are required to conform to standards of appearance that include how long they are allowed to wear their hair. They cook, clean, and take care of children and pets and they do it for about $350 a month.

  24. NancyP, I'm not sure what division of labor between mothers and fathers has to do with this topic.

  25. Wow, I'd never heard of this before! Most likely b/c I was the one who was babysat. I've never watched a child who wasn't my relative.

    It does remind me of something other swpd. Assume that any child accompanying a black teen or woman is that teen/woman's child.

    Once, when I was 14 (and I've always looked VERY young for my age--I definitely looked no older than 14) I picked up my nephew from elementary school (It was a few blocks away). He was only about 5 or 6 years old. The woman who was in charge of checking in/out children into the after school program looked at me and asked me if he was MY child.

    In other places I would receive rather harsh looks from white ppl I didn't know. A friend of mine (black woman) told me she had the same experience whenever she went out with her brother.

  26. What an entitled bitch that was, expecting her to babysit the new infant for free. She wouldn't go to a restaurant and demand a free meal for the third person. I can see asking for a discount, but free? She must be insane.

    I wish the hell racism would die. I've been looking for more work lately in social services settings, and it's worse than ever. The ideal candidate is white or Spanish-speaking, and the last part is the fairly new trend so agencies can get more bang for the buck, and there's not a black face in the place even though many clients are black. This leaves clients to be served by whites or Latinos, and once again, they see little or no representation of people who look like them and are sometimes culturally incompetent and not empathetic. Meanwhile the agencies can boast they hire minorities which is a partial lie, and still discriminate against African Americans.

  27. Rosa said:

    "While I agree that the fundamentals of intersectionality apply, this is not something that one upper class white woman would necessarily do to another lower class white woman. This *is* something that whites do to Black women and Latina women and other women of color, regardless of class or economic status."

    This is a good point. Those of us who raised the question of class raised it from the perspective of questioning whether a lower class white woman would as readily do that to a WoC or (from my standpoint) at all. I don't profess to know that because I've never been a WoC. I only know that this entire concept was new to me and that I was of lower/working class. But I don't think anyone refuted that this, indeed, is a white thing.

  28. General question:

    It's fairly obvious how this 'system' ('cause it basically is) perpetuates the Mammy stereotype of Black women. Do you think this will lead to the spreading of the stereotype to women of other non-white races/ethnicities?

  29. Hmmm, pasting a letter on the door sounds like a cowardly thing to do, especially given the price was on your card before you babysat and that they were adults and you were a teen. I wonder if deep down they knew they were wrong and were embarrassed that you pointed it out. Sometimes when we do something wrong, and someone points it out, we get embarrassed. But instead of fixing the wrong, we can get angry at the other person thinking it's all their fault we're embarrassed. Defensive, basically.

  30. I've been babysitting since I was thirteen, and by far the best jobs I have ever had were working for black people. Aside from benefits that weren't directly related to race (both families owned nice restaurants and liked to feed me), both families gave me decent notice, trusted in my honesty when I told them how their children behaved, and offered to pay for me to go home in a cab at the end of the night.

    With the many, many white families I've worked for, there are some trends. Most of them tended to give me very little notice when they needed me. Most of them did not offer to pay for my cab or to give me a ride home (which I believe they would have done if I were white). And most of them expect some weird perfection from me -- i.e., that if their child misbehaves or becomes upset or makes a mess, it's due to something I did wrong. I've also found that when white strangers see me out with a white child I'm babysitting, they often assume I don't speak good English.

  31. I'm totally appalled by both stories. Reading the babysitting story though, I admit I wasn't that surprised or appalled until the note, probably because I was treated the same way as a young babysitter and I feel like, as you noted, teenagers are often disrespected and devalued. But the note added the racist icing to the cake, so to speak.

  32. Willow,

    You said: "Do you think this will lead to the spreading of the stereotype to women of other non-white races/ethnicities?"

    I think it already does. I'm not sure how totally relevant this is, but where I live, there's a large Brazilian population - some are undocumented, but most aren't. Many of the undocumented and documented young women in the community find work as housekeepers and cleaners through bulletin boards and whatnot...And I've watched a lot of people I thought I respected talk about how little they pay "the illegals" to clean their houses...As if their work is somehow worth less. I know undocumented workers get paid less, but before these incidents, always viewed it at a higher level...but now I see how much individuals devalue these workers too.

  33. I'd heard stories like this before, but I don't think it ever occurred to me that it would happen to kids. My mom used to have a friend who worked as an in-house nanny, and she had some Stories.

    As a kid, I never babysat for anyone but family— I have a zillion cousins. I never minded watching them, but for some reason, I've always shied away from babysitting as a profession (ie: open to anyone). Until this moment, I always vaguely put it down to being uncomfortable around kids, but that's not true— I LOVED watching my cousins. I think a big part of it is that I was comfortable disciplining them. For the last several years, I've gotten heavy pressure to tutor a young white girl, and I've resisted and resisted. I did it twice (with them looking on) and I just wasn't comfortable. Also, the girl was all over the place, barely wanting to pay attention. She wants to socialize; I'm supposed to be her teacher; it just wasn't working for me. Next, the family asked me to just babysit— huh? That is definitely not my thing. I begged off. Then it was back to pestering me to tutor. I've since just refused (ie: painfully, awkwardly gotten out of it).

    Here's the weird thing, though. These people want to OVERpay me. Like, by a lot. It's like they keep upping the price to tempt me to do it. Sorry, no amount of money is going to give me extra free time or make me feel comfortable around your little Blondinette!. (And yeah, I'm working on why that is.) I don't understand why they don't a) try to help her themselves— they don't even try— or b) just get her a professional tutor! They can definitely afford it. In the past 4 years, they've even gotten a few here or there, but in the end they keep coming back to me. Can't they see how uncomfortable I am? Why does it have to be ME?

  34. any black female over the age of 11 seen with a child in public will be assumed to be the parent

  35. I empathize with your mother, but I would find this policy irritating and unprofessional, too.

    Solution: make parents sign up for daycare in 6-month or year-long blocks -- just the way you have to sign a contract for cell phone service, private school, or an apartment rental. Alternatively, don't make this mandatory, but offer a significant discount if daycare is purchased in bulk (i.e., raise prices for noncommitals). A parent who wishes to renew for a successive 6-month period most notify the daycare center by x time or else risk losing the child's spot when the 6 months expire. This way at very least you are offering something reliable and predictable and not, "well, you seemed indecisive so, oops, your kid's out." If your mom continues w/her current policy then she should make sure to disclose it in writing; otherwise, she could be sued.

    And speaking of obnoxious and unprofessional...I babysat as a kid, too, and if I'd ever found a note like that taped to my door, I would have flipped a shit. What disgusting people.

  36. @ Julia:

    I grew up in a white (fairly waspy) household where there was a weird selfless--selfish continuum that applied more to girls/women than to boys/men. In this way of thinking, putting your own needs first--no matter how reasonable--was "selfish"

    OMG I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO HAD EXPERIENCED THIS. i never thought about it as correlated to ethnicity before, but that makes such.fucking.sense.

  37. @Eli:

    Maybe/probably/hopefully nothing, but depending upon the laws of the state, it might be possible for some parent to allege that (s)he'd reasonably relied on the OP's mom to provide daycare and the OP's mom violated that expectation in a commercially unreasonable way. Many employment arrangements in many states are by default considered to be at-will, i.e., either party can back out at any time for any reason. But in other instances, certain arrangements are statutorily presumed to contain certain default terms, and even if no actual contract is signed, a litigant can obtain damages if she relied on those terms but, to her detriment, they weren't upheld. (For example, in some situations if a landlord accepts rent from you then a month-to-month tenancy is presumed to arise, and the landlord can't kick you out mid-month). I don't know anything about daycare in particular, but because the mom's policy seems fairly unorthodox and likely to leave someone in a lurch, it's something I'd want to check on.

  38. This picture is highly relevant and headlined "What white feminism looks like". Thoughts?

  39. Also, I'm sure many of these condescending white women who view black women as "mammies" whose sole purpose is to take care of their over privileged brats, no doubt call themselves feminists. What white feminists fail to realize is that race trumps gender in this country, and always has.

  40. (Note: NOT a defense of white feminism)

    >> "...race trumps gender in this country, and always has."

    Sounds like someone could use a primer on the Oppression Olympics...

    Here, let me Google that for you.

    Short form:
    Oppression sucks.
    Systems of oppression work together. (See "kyriarchy")
    It is pointless and inhibits progress to argue about which is "worse." Because there is no "worse."

    /tangent, apologies for the OT

    Also, re the photo: that is a *great* illustration of the point that I raised above, and that Karen Brodkin covers in How Jews Became White Folks. (Except with a tokenbaby thrown in). Thanks. :)

  41. i'd ask; why is your mom's friend even commenting on your mom's business practices AT ALL? how is it your mom's friend's business?

    still...i get the feeling something is being glossed over here. like maybe there are a few details that would place your mom's actions in a less than reasonable light, which are missing from the account? it's unclear at exactly what point she decides to 'replace' the kid and whether this decision is based on the parent saying something first, or what. is the parent just told one day on pickup in the p.m. ; 'don't bother bringing zir back tomorrow. ze's been replaced.'? and this was done because some other parent told your mom that parent x was going to move away soon.?

    THAT scenario might be a bit dodgy.

    but since its a licensed daycare, i presume that its in compliance with any regulations regarding contracts, giving notice, refunds, whatever.

  42. To answer a few questions, my mom's friend is a former client; her son aged out of care and is now in second grade. She doesn't plan on having any more kids, so now their relationship is just as friends.

    My parents are firmly middle class, but the clients have ranged from lower class to upper class. Right now it's mostly high middle class, as those seem to be the households who mostly still have two working parents (as opposed to one staying home watching the kids due to unemployment). There's been a lot more turnaround since the economy has tanked, thanks to lost jobs and families cutting back on expenses, or moving to be closer to their extended families elsewhere.

    And no, my mom doesn't replace kids based on rumors, or any other silly such thing. The parents are always given two weeks' notice per my mom's contract. She IS a professional, after all, and I don't know why it's being suggested otherwise. She operates well within her rights and the law, tyvm.

    There are only so many times that you will be screwed over by flaky parents before deciding to take action to prevent the screwing over. If a parent says to her, "We're looking at other places now, but we PROMISE that we're not taking her out for another eight months," and then up and leaves next week, that fucks over my parents, especially if they gave up other oppurtunities to fill the spot. They just don't take that chance anymore.

    There's a difference between preparing for a kid to age out, planning for a move, and just leaving high and dry with no warning or justification. If my parents didn't know the difference, they wouldn't be running a succesful business, the clientele of which is mostly repeat clients and referrals from former clients.

    If being "unorthodox" is what it takes to keep a roof over their head, then sure, they're unorthodox. Again, this policy wasn't created in a vacuum, it happened because deferring to flighty parents turned out to be a risky thing to do, and it's a risk they couldn't afford.

  43. I wonder if some naive white people, having seen WOC frequently being portrayed as "mammies" and nannies/maids in popular culture, have a conscious or unconscious belief that WOC simply just really, really like to take care of children. When I say naive WP, I mean people who either have never considered the role race plays in limiting employment opportunities, or who disagree that race plays a role (ie the bootstraps mentality). Perhaps this mentality allows them, when they attempt to overburden, underpay, or otherwise exploit WOC, to frame it in their own mind as doing a favour - a favour which "just happens" to save them money.

  44. Maybe no one else peeped the 2 comments (yerbird and randy) that suggested that despite what August tells us, somehow her mother is still wrong because this friend wouldn't comment if her mother wasn't somehow wrong.

    Heaven forbid we take the story at face value. Heaven forbid we believe that actually, yes, people are inconsiderate enough to pull their child out with no warning and that yes, this causes a lot of problems for people who depend on each and every customer to stick around. No, no, some of the facts must be muddled and this can't be a racial thing.

    This is a white tendency, and it's a problem.

    I know there's a post on it, I'm sure, but I think I've done my part in pointing it out.

  45. Yep. I'm still blown away by the fact that yerbird thought it somehow appropriate to give unsolicited advice on how to run my mother's business, despite admittedly knowing nothing about daycare, laws pertaining to daycare, or even which STATE my parents live in. And of course raised the specter of litigation, but don't worry, because ze has the answer!

    Overall though, this discussion has been quite helpful to me. There's just always been a lingering unease whenever I thought about that white mother, and it's good to finally put a name to it. Thanks, all.

  46. I also would like to add that my mom doesn't have to do this very often. The vast majority of kids either age out, move away, or are removed by their parents in order to replace them with a younger sibling. In all those cases, there is transparency and time to prepare. In the rare case when a child is removed suddenly because of an unforseen event, like job loss, my folks exercise their discretion and are pretty understanding.

    But when a parent is "just looking" at other options, my folks "just look" at their own options as well.

    I neglected to mention that the white family I sat for also did this to my mom. Those three kids were in my mother's care, and the day that woman left the letter to me taped to my mom's front door is the day that she pulled all 3 kids out of my mom's daycare, with zero warning. None of us ever saw or heard from them again. Just like that, my parents lost 1/3 of their income and these kids that we had helped raise were suddenly just gone from our lives.

  47. um, LOL. A.Smith (and macon), I didn't presume that the friend wouldn't have commented if August's mom weren't in the wrong. I'm a bit baffled as to why you'd read my comment this way, given that I certainly didn't treat August's second anecdote (wherein, likewise, a white customer complained about the policies maintained by a WOC in the childcare business) the same way. Instead, I speculated that August's mom might be in the wrong from a legal or professional standpoint because of the manner in which the policy was initially described. (Contrast, again, the second anecdote, wherein the policy was stated to have been clearly printed on a business card). If the original post had simply said something like, "reserves the right to replace a kid upon 2 weeks notice per the contract all the parents sign," I would have thought, ok, tough but fair. Should people posting testimonials like this be forced to word them to my liking? Of course not. Am I an evil, derailing white person for explaining my thought process here? Through a certain lens, maybe. But since that thought process was directly made an issue, I don't particularly feel remiss doing it.

    August, my advice, unsolicited though it may be, stems from personal experience, and I apologize if my providing that advice offended you.

    I think the main faulty assumption I made (and I'm wondering whether it was a particularly white assumption to make) was as follows: I thought that if the daycare business had some more reasonable contractual arrangement in place, August probably would have alluded to this, since the post seemed to me to have been designed in large part to emphasize how inappropriate and unfair the customer's reaction was. Reading back through the post, I now feel like August (August, correct me if I'm wrong) underscored the unfairness of the customer's response another way -- by stressing the financial burden that flaky parents placed on her family. Is it a white pathology to approach all personal testimony as if it's been pre-packaged for our cross-examination? Or maybe it's a personal flaw, I dunno.

  48. I speculated that August's mom might be in the wrong from a legal or professional standpoint because of the manner in which the policy was initially described.

    The issue here, that you might miss, is that in analyzing her post and finding fault with her mother's practices, you mitigate the entire point of her post and the fact that regardless of whether she's right or wrong, the friend's suggestions all put August's mother at a disadvantage.

    I'm sure now and I was sure when I made my initial remark that you meant no harm, but as we've discussed on this blog, intentions mean nothing when matched up with what actually happens. The way you came across was a lot like "the friend may be improper, but your mother is really wrong and would do herself a service to rectify the following issues..."

    I recently took the GRE and one of the essays you write is analytical in nature. You take a prompt, you break it up and you find all the missing pieces that make the assertion invalid.

    The only reason you go poking holes in someone's argument (or, make suggestions for next time) is to invalidate what they say. We can dress it up as being helpful and perhaps you are being helpful in some cases, but in situations like these invalidating an argument makes it no more or no less true and distracts from the purpose.

    Yerbird, I think the faulty assumption you made was that August was looking for or wanting suggestions to pass on to her mother. I wonder how you might read her post differently if you didn't go searching your personal knowledge for an answer to a problem that wasn't presented.

    Is it a white pathology to approach all personal testimony as if it's been pre-packaged for our cross-examination? Or maybe it's a personal flaw, I dunno.

    I'm not sure of the answer to this. My mother often tries to offer suggestions to problems I didn't give her. When discussing impending graduate applications, she wonders, aloud, if I might've done a better service to myself to have applied last year and deferred my acceptance. I didn't ask her for her opinion on that and offering it at this late stage is meaningless.

    I recognize the "wanting to help" need some of us have, but we have to be cognizant of how it comes across, especially in sensitive discussions like these.

  49. I have similar stories to all of you PoC's while nannying for extra money at NYU. The funny thing is the most infuriating and demeaning things I went through were with families where the MOTHER was a woman of color and the father was white.

    I just got tired of being, as one reader put it, mammy with pay. I could not longer be in the homes of women, mostly White but a few PoC in denial b/c they got some cash, who did not work but needed a full staff. I was often the third nanny of the house-but always the go to nanny b/c of my education. I hated taking care of their kids who desperately needed love and attention from mommy who was too busy being pampered, schlacked, manicured, and waxed to care.

    I hate walking past a playground and seeing a ton of WoC mothering children who will forget them one day and know that this woman is their just to see that everything is handed to them.

  50. I can relate to much of what is being said here. I have often been asked if I am my son's nanny b/c my son is lighter than me. ( I am biracial)

    On another note,I do not watch children for pay. My mother ( who is white) would hire-me-out to her friends to babysit their kids. I would get paid really well,but it would be something that was expected and I didn't like it at all. I resented my mother ( that's another story) for making me or guilting me into watching her white friends' children.

    I did it for a bit after hs and then I said " no more".

    I've even had positions working with disabled people and to me that is just babysitting with a nice title and I won't be doing that again either.

    Unfortunately,the people who are educated never stay long and those that do are often new immigrants (where I live its mostly African) who in my opinion get exploited in those positions.

    It's a disservice to the clients that they care for even though they mean well. (one of our clients died due to poor training the high turnover of that job)

  51. It's easy to take a few examples of individuals behaving in a certain obnoxious way and then generalize that behavior to some demographic that they belong to. I'm a white man who grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood, and had almost exclusively black friends in the early years of my life. All of my neighbors (who were all black) were friendly people who did nice things to make our neighborhood a better place as well as things that helped me directly. That said, every single person who ever stole property from me, tried to rob me, or beat me up (a one time occurrence, by a group) was black. If I formed my opinion of black people based only on my negative experiences with a few black individuals, I would probably have a white robe and a tall pointy mask in my closet right now. Thankfully, I don't. I understand and acknowledge that there are certain annoying behavioral tendencies that are more common among white folks (they annoy me too), but the same goes for all groups.

  52. Matthew Garrison,

    So what? This is a blog about stuff (some) white people do, not stuff black people do.

    Take a look at this post, please. Saying, like a six-year-old, "but they do it too!" is not an effective contribution to the discussion here.

  53. @ Macon

    I smell denial. It's like a disturbance in the SWPD Force....

  54. Ah, so THAT'S what that smell is! Thanks for identifying it. I've been blocking some of it, but maybe enough. Time to consider closing more windows.

  55. @ macon

    Saying, like a six-year-old, "but they do it too!" is not an effective contribution to the discussion here.

    Okay, I've seen this counterargument before but I actually don't understand it. To me, the observation that other groups exhibit a trait or behavior with a frequency equaling or exceeding white people makes all the difference in the world. I mean, how meaningful, really, is the observation that WP do X when EVERYONE does X? "SWPD: inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide" could be a powerful insight ripe with implications re: societal oppression if, it turned out, POC were relegated to some different way of breathing. But that's not the case.

    Sure, given the historical context of white privilege, an otherwise identical behavior could have very different implications when engaged in by a WP vs a POC. But most of discussions on this blog seem to go beyond merely contemplating the EFFECTS of an act committed by a WP against a backdrop of white privilege. Instead, usually there is some attempt to theorize about causation ("white privilege conditions WP to do X") based on an observed correlation ("WP do X"). The unstated assumption there is that WP do X more often than POC do X - otherwise, if individuals of all racial backgrounds do X with uniform frequency, isn't it extremely counterintuitive to attribute X to a type of privilege that only WP enjoy?

    I get that the fact that other groups do it, too, doesn't make a behavior desirable. It doesn't absolve those engaging in that behavior of responsibility. But it does argue against framing that behavior as a "white" behavior, right?

  56. Great post!
    Having returned to school full time, I was able to spend more time outdoors during the work day in NYC this summer. Over time I began to notice how rare it is to see a brown woman between the hours of 9 and 7 to be seen pushing stroller with a brown baby. When I did see this combination, my first assumption was that the baby was probably somebody's adopted son or daughter. I also remember an ex-coworker of mine who was pissed that her cleaning lady brought her young daughter with her sometimes (mainly because the little girl would play with the dog). She never though to think that the woman probably did not have anywhere to send her child and/or couldn't afford to pay for child care, or even that she should either get a doggie-sitter or taker her dog out with her when the cleaning woman comes.

  57. I came upon your blog by chance, so hope you don't mind me leaving a comment. I'm white and while I can certainly see some white people treating women of color this way, it's not necessarily an attitude attributable to racism. The mindset that you have described is just sick and represents a distorted view of reality that places one above others. Since I cannot personally identify with this worldview I cannot explain the root causes; I only know that it is pathological.

    My story is that I have a sister that has always thought of herself as a princess. She is rich, republican and pretty. I am pretty much the exact opposite (but love who I am!). I am a graduate student and this year I was supposed to be writing my dissertation when she asked if I would care for her newborn for the year. I agreed because I adore him. Originally she was going to help me care for him to give me time to do my work since she works from home. I was also originally going to get $1000/month and get off early.

    Well, soon the whining about her finances came up and the rate was dropped to $600/month and I now work longer hours. My sister does very little to help with the baby so needless to say the dissertation is not getting written. To make matters worse, my sister just recently got a raise (equivalent to my entire year salary!). When she told me I thought I was going to punch her in the face; she doesn't get it at all! So I have used up all my student loans to take care of her baby this year (only because she doesn't want to pay the day care rates) and will be flat broke at the end of May. I honestly don't know how I'm going to survive after that...

    Look, some people are just trash and they will never respect you. It's ultimately my fault for allowing my sister to treat me this way and is indicative of a problem I have asserting myself. I obviously don't feel I deserve to be treated better. I would think that someone treating you this way because they're sick AND because you're a woman of color would be even more painful. But I think as long as you don't allow this to happen to you then you have nothing to worry about. You can't change the soulless people with this mindset, it is too ingrained, but you can change how you react to it.

    I probably won't bookmark this page and return, but know that there is someone out there who is having positive thoughts for you today. I hope you find peace with this issue and take pride in the person you have become. If you are not happy with who you are today, I hope you find strength to change it tomorrow.

  58. I just happened to stumble upon this discussion (tl;dr) but I did have a comment as an age 25 white male.

    Those people you babysat for had NO right to treat you that way and chastise you like that. I would have corrected them on the price exactly like you did and if they sent me a letter like they sent you, I would be at their door asking what their problem was.

    I realize that perhaps when you were 17, back in that time, it would not have exactly been wise to, as a young black woman, try to confront the family after receiving a litter such as that (depending on location in the US).. but no, the letter and the family's reaction were not proper in my opinion, REGARDLESS of the race of either party.

    I don't exactly know where this behavior stems from either. I would say that the family was just trying to cheat you out of some money and get a bargain for babysitting, but you stated that you babysat for them for years. So why would they want to cheat you if they were happy with the job you did?

    I would speculate that this behavior from white parents would disappear in the upcoming years after there are no more white parents who remember having a black Nana when they were children.

    Other than that.. I can't offer any insight into why they expected you to do more work for the same amount of money... of course, in the economy today, businesses are expecting just that as they cut their workforces and re-delegate responsibilities to workers still there...

  59. @postulate,

    I would speculate that this behavior from white parents would disappear in the upcoming years after there are no more white parents who remember having a black Nana when they were children.

    That sounds to me like an unwarranted sense of white racial gradualism. I also don't think all that many of today's adults have had black Nana's (at least not in the U.S.); other factors seem more significant causes of the kind of racism described in this post.

  60. righto said...
    I can relate to much of what is being said here. I have often been asked if I am my son's nanny b/c my son is lighter than me. ( I am biracial)

    The hegemony of white supremacy strikes again. It's funny how people can't see how assuming darker complexion = person in service of someone lighter is racist. I've gotten this almost invariably from WP - and one light-skinned sales woman, whom the store manager had to correct after I complained (I mean seriously, how stupid do you have to be? you work on commission and you're going to question if they're *really* my children while you're in the middle of a sales pitch? Not to mention, I felt that as one black woman to another, she should have known better).

    Unfortunately,the people who are educated never stay long and those that do are often new immigrants (where I live its mostly African) who in my opinion get exploited in those positions.

    Actually, according to an article I had read in the New York Times, Africans are the most educated immigrant group. The fact that so many of the nannies you see may be African might be more the result of racism + sexism + xenophobia (which doesn't = discrimination's even more oppressive). And it's not just Africans, either: I've met other foreign-born POCs who've taken jobs in the US that weren't commensurate with their education and experience. Some of them were forced into service industries. Some of this depends on the status under which one comes to the U.S.

  61. I'be been reading through the posts (really interesting and educational blog; thank you!) and though I don't want to be another "x does x too!" poster, I'd like to mention that this has happened to me too as a white childminder/babysitter. I've been expected to watch an additional baby for the same amount of money, to do things around the house for no additional money and and handed a token amount at the end of an evening when parents didn't bother to tell me they'd be back late. And the ones who didn't tell me they'd never left their child with a sitter before and he screamed. The. Whole. Time. because of separation anxiety.

    From what I'd seen, there are a lot of people who don't respect the folks who watch their children. It's a devaluation of a typically female and domestic role in some cases, I believe. Race can certainly play a part in that, as people have eloquently pointed out, but there are some privileged jerks out there who treat white sitters the same way.

  62. and though I don't want to be another "x does x too!" poster,

    And yet, that's exactly what your comment makes you.

    It's cool that you find this blog intriguing, but what your comment does is pretty much the same thing other white people do when they start a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but . . . ", and then go on to say something racist.

    I encourage you to think about just what it was in you that led you to (1) state the obvious (of course some parents mistreat babysitters for other reasons), and (2) by doing so, derail the focus here away from white racism.


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