I’M NOT THE NANNY AND OTHER ASSUMPTIONS

EMOTIONAL, MOTHERHOOD, MUST READ, THOUGHT-PROVOKING

Recently I have watched ‘When They See Us’ on Netflix  and the Harry and Megan documentary on ITV. They were both powerful (particularly the former) they also reminded me that I had been meaning to share this brilliant list from Luise Brown

  • I am British and live in South East London in 2019.  Or at least that’s what I thought until I started having babies.

  • Born in Oxford, raised in North London, attended an all girls school in Hertfordshire, studied at York and have gone on to enjoy an eclectic career in law (kinda), finance (sorta kinda), marketing (a little) and theatre (my great love) before finally finding my feet in Tech. 

  • I currently work in Sales for IBM.

  • My mother is from Guyana whilst my father is of Czech heritage. An exotic mix of non-practicing Jew and Hindu. Or ‘Hinjews’ as my sister and I used to call ourselves. We never thought much about our colour or mixed heritage other than it was wicked to have an all year round tan. 

  • However, as I grew older I noticed comments that contained the subtle undertones of racism which anyone who is not white will know so well.

  • It can be as overt as being referred to as a ‘Paki’ and it can be as casual as an Uber driver asking ‘where are you from?  To which I would say ’London’  with my standard eye roll.  ‘No, where are you from, from.’

  • My friend at school once remarked that she thought of me as a white person.

  • I think she had surprised herself she could be friends with a non white person and it was not dissimilar to any other friendship. But I am not white, I am brown. 

  • Could it be that my ethnicity is at once obvious and invisible at the same time? Notice my skin colour, but there’s no need to make any judgement or assumptions about my origins because of it, but there is also no reason to disregard it as if colour blind.  

  • I’ve always loved a ginger and in 2013 I met one and married him! Fast forward to 2017 when our daughter Matilda was born, pale of skin with blue eyes and a mop of blonde hair. But still with the unmistakable hue of mixed heritage. 

  • M was born peacefully at home, but a traumatic (near fatal) post birth experience led us to hospital.

  • A hospital that decided it was appropriate on day 2 to ask that my husband and I to accompany the Matron-of-the-Ward and other attendants to a private room to discuss a ‘very serious matter’. 

  • It was the second most terrifying moment of my life. After a  very forceful demand to have the conversation then and there, we were told that as I had a history of mental illness, and a record of having not only attempted to kill myself, but been violent towards my 8 year old son, Matilda would not be ‘allowed’ to come home with us until the situation had been reviewed. 

  • Thank god, we both laughed at what was utter fiction. I am not nor have I ever been any of these things. A flawed ambulance record had led to this; the threat of the unthinkable. An hour or two and inordinate amounts of cortisol later, not what you need after just giving birth – we were issued with a verbal apology and given ‘permission’ to head home with our baby girl. 

  • I was angry, upset and confused –  but life goes on and we were home to enjoy our baby bubble. We did go to great lengths to ensure the error that afflicted our birth experience would not effect any other women. I had a series of meetings with the Head of Midwifery and the head of the ambulance service to understand what exactly happened and make sure it would not happen again. 

  • It did not dawn on me until months later that this may have been that scarcely detectable kind of racism (though no less damaging) written about so eloquently in ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race.’ By Reni Eddo-Lodge 

  • Did the medical staff actually unconsciously see my colour and jump to an assumption?

  • That perhaps if I had been white, would they have spent more time doing their due diligence and checked the paperwork, which would have quickly uncovered the error before asking me questions about my mental health and interrogating me and my family at such a special time? 

  • You might say I’m unlucky. Well maybe the fact that black women are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth and Asian women 2 times more likely is just bad luck. But I doubt it.

  • The fact is am lucky, I am still here, and I am grateful to the NHS for saving my life, but faced with an uncomfortable truth that racial bias could have played a dark role in my early days of motherhood. 

  • Turning up to playgroups with my blonde baby, ‘is she yours?’, ‘are you the nanny?’, ‘who are you looking after her for?’ On closer inspection, ‘you can tell she’s half caste like you’. One woman even remarked ‘lucky she was born at home, otherwise they wouldn’t have known she was yours.’ Ever since my blonde, blue eyed babe had arrived, the question of whether she was mine was continuously being asked of me.

  • Why do people ask these questions? I go to playgroup to share my experiences and feel together with other women. I have never felt less so. Intruder syndrome washes over me everytime I am talking to these mothers, and I feel the primal urge to stay close and protect my cub and scream – she is MY BABY. NO, I AM NOT THE NANNY. 

  •  Ten weeks ago, I gave birth to my son Linus. He is very brown, much darker than me – I have noticed not only do I not have any comments about the way he looks, or questions over where we are from but we seem to have less people talking to us. 

  • Boring as it is, the Blackheath mum’s club seemed to embrace Matilda and I quite readily. Come to think of it, it’s all a bit reminiscent of school. Only this time Matilda was my ticket in, not my Home Counties accent or any other white signature. With my white daughter I felt included and part of the mum’s club. But then I had Linus and suddenly I have felt people are less likely to talk to us. 

  • With both of them – the questions roll in about their differences (I honestly wish I could hand people a leaflet outlining our family heritage) 

  • Yes, Linus is remarkably different to his sister. It is beautiful. Their difference amazes me everyday! I am more than happy to engage in a conversation about the beauty in their differences, this is the magic of life and of ethnicity. But when I have to have this conversation everyday with strangers – remarking on my children, their differences, their colour. Their whiteness or lack of, I cannot help but feel like I am living a few hundred years ago.

  • I cannot help but feel like an outsider at a time in my life when I very much want to be included in this often isolating journey of motherhood. 

  • I’ve always ticked ‘other’ or ‘not applicable’ on the forms regarding my ethnicity – but I’ve never felt more of a sense of being ‘other’ or for that matter – not applicable, since having children!

  • Brown enough to tick the diversity box for employers, whitewashed sufficiently to not erode the corporate culture? It’s only my children that have brought this perspective to me. As if their skin colour warranted all this behaviour. 

  • I’m not the only mother who feels this way. I talk to women of all different ethnicities all the time that feel the same way. 

  • Get this everyone, brown people have white babies. White people have brown babies. Do not raise your eyebrows or question it when Matilda’s West Indian Grandma picks her up from nursery.

  • There is more to me and my children than the colour of their skin. I want to talk about their character, their mischievousness, their silliness. I don’t want to talk about genetics. I’m proud of our heritage but I want you to see me as a mother and my children as themselves.  

  • The current racism against Megan Markle is just evidence of how far we still have to come. It is playing out in front of our eyes every single day. Dressing it up as anything other than racism is just ignorance 

  • Let me leave you with John Agard’s wonderful poem, ‘Half-Caste‘:

Excuse me standing on one leg I’m half-caste

Explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean when picasso

mix red an green

is a half-caste canvas/

explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean when light an shadow mix in de sky

is a half-caste weather/

well in dat case

england weather

nearly always half-caste

in fact some o dem cloud half-caste till dem overcast

so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass ah rass/

explain yuself

wha yu mean

when yu say half-caste

yu mean tchaikovsky

sit down at dah piano

an mix a black key

wid a white key

is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself

wha yu mean

Ah listening to yu wid de keen half of mih ear

Ah lookin at yu wid de keen half of mih eye

and when I’m introduced to yu I’m sure you’ll understand why I offer yu half-a-hand

an when I sleep at night

I close half-a-eye consequently when I dream

I dream half-a-dream

an when moon begin to glow

I half-caste human being

cast half-a-shadow

but yu must come back tomorrow wid de whole of yu eye

an de whole of yu ear

an de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu de other half of my story

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Carol October 26, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Good grief. People are such idiots, I’m a white woman and I’ve got work to do on this, I know I have, I’m trying to be better and learn and trying to be a better advocate and challenge others thinking too. This makes me so ashamed, I’m sorry you have to endure this. In this day and age there really is no excuse. X

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