I'm Not The Nanny, So Please Stop Asking

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

“Oh, he is so cute! Are you his nanny?”

In the first year and a half of my son’s life, I got this question at least two or three times a week, or something close to it.

Once my kid began to talk, the confused looks began when he called me “Mommy.” They didn’t ask if I was the nanny, but they seemed to have a hard time reconciling me as his mother.

We still get these looks.

I want to wave maniacally and say, “Yes, I’m a black woman. Yes, I’m his mom. He came out of my vagina, and if you ask me if I’m his fucking nanny again, I’m going to punch you in the throat.” I don’t do this, though the reaction would be valid. I often just nod and move along, refusing to satisfy their curiosity.

After four years, nothing really surprises me anymore, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not frustrating as hell. Because it is. And it’s not just me, it’s all moms of color who have mixed kids who don’t look like them.

A while back, a story went viral on the internet of a little girl barging in on her dad while he was doing a very important live interview on the BBC. A frazzled woman flew into the room to retrieve the little girl, only to be followed by an infant in a walker. The woman, clearly mortified, tried to crawl out of the room with the children in tow as if she didn’t want to be seen that way. As a mom who works from home, I laughed at the whole thing since I’ve been on both sides.

But as the video gained popularity, so many people automatically referred to the woman as “the nanny.” Why? Well, because she was Asian, and the man doing the interview was white. Upon the truth being revealed, she was the mother of the children, the spouse of the man, many tried to argue that it was simply because of how she handled the situation that made them jump to the “nanny” conclusion.

But let’s not try to glaze over this, there is really a deeper inference there.

Women of color are always “the nanny” until proven otherwise. When I am out with my son, I am often the “nanny” until I say, “Oh, no, he’s mine!”

If you search popular stock photo websites with the phrase “mixed race family,” about 75 percent of the pictures feature a family with a dad of color and a white mom. According to Essence magazine, black men are two times more likely to date outside their race than black women, but that doesn’t mean that black women never date outside their race. In fact, many of my friends who are in interracial relationships are women of color. That’s why it’s hard to understand how people can see a black woman (or any woman of color) with a child who may look more like their father’s race and not even hesitate to assume that woman is the nanny/caregiver.

It is ignorant and insensitive to ask a complete stranger the parentage of their children. I can’t believe that I would even have to say that, but well, here we are.

The thing is, the lack of representation of mothers of color with mixed kids is a trickle-down effect. On several occasions, I have had children look at me and my son and ask point-blank, “Why is your son white?” Obviously I’m far more patient with a young child than I will be with an adult. I gently explain to the child that his dad is white, and that his skin looks more like his dad’s than mine. But it’s proof positive that people are often neglecting to teach their kids about how families can look different.

My son is nearing school-age, and I can only imagine what kind of questions he’s going to get from his peers. I shouldn’t and won’t teach him to just deal with this line of questioning. I don’t care if it makes him (or me) an asshole, he isn’t obligated to answer questions about “What are you?” day in and day out while he’s trying to live his life.

As a mother of color, and especially a black mother to a child who is mixed with fair skin, it is a struggle. When I say that my son presents as white and is sometimes perceived as such, it seems to make some people uncomfortable. People are quick to tell me that he looks just like me, and yes, we look similar, but he resembles his father too. And that’s okay. That’s the thing about many mixed kids, they can straddle the line in terms of looks and skin tone.

Saying that my experience as a black mom with a fair-skinned child is completely different than the experience of a white mom with mixed kids (no matter their skin tone) does not make me defensive. Or overly sensitive. It is simply a fact of life that a white mom of mixed kids is not often labeled as “nanny” upon first judgment. She’s not often asked why her kids have the skin tone they do. Sure, it happens, but not on the same level or at the same frequency.

This isn’t my first time writing about this subject. The invalidation of the feelings and opinions of women of color in these situations is rampant; “Can’t you just be happy about your kid?” “Why do you care what other people think/say?” “Why are you so sensitive?” “I deal with this all the time, and I just ignore it. People don’t know what they’re saying.” “White women go through this too.”

But the question still stands, and the reason I keep writing about this subject is this: Why do people feel that they’re entitled to ask these questions about me and my child? If you want to pay one of us a compliment, feel free. I know my kid is cute, funny, smart, and awesome, and I love getting that feedback. But when you veer into the invasive questions about my son, his father’s race, or our relationship, then you have crossed a line, and you deserved to get called out for it.

Talking about the fact that this is a frustrating phenomena, that happens far too often, doesn’t make me, or other WOC, overly sensitive or bitchy. And we are not required to “get over it” for the sake of other people’s ignorance and odd curiosity. That’s not how this works.

I’m not the nanny. And I don’t owe you any explanations.

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