Dear My Black Nannies and Sitters,

Do you remember the moment you first fell in love with childcare? The one-on-one experience that sparked your everlasting passion for being a part of a child’s upbringing?

I always gravitated towards caring for my younger relatives and it ultimately turned into an eternal passion in childcare.

For me, it was my childhood. See, I come from a large West African family, and my twin sister and I are the youngest of four children. We lived in an area where my nieces, nephews, and cousins were just a 20-minute drive away. Family gatherings were the perfect opportunities to see the new additions to our “Cousin Crew.” I specifically recall the moment I practically begged my Aunt Ami to let me babysit my 2-year-old cousin, Omar. I had just turned 16 years old. It took her some convincing, but she finally agreed. I always gravitated towards caring for my younger relatives and it ultimately turned into an eternal passion in childcare.

Now, take a moment to also filter your memories… Once you do, mask yourself in the emotions you felt.

As time went on, I found myself mesmerized by my hands-on experience babysitting with family and decided to begin caring for children within my neighborhood while in high school. I intended to be the best babysitter I could possibly be! Once we as Black nannies and sitters make a commitment, 99.9 % we follow through on it.

Now at this point, we both have officially decided to pursue a career in childcare. Woohoo! A journey of bright beautiful faces that we have the opportunity to care for, welcoming parents who are ready to partner with us in raising their children, and a solid game plan to ensure our career is right where it needs to be.

However, what we thought was our “dream” career turned into a nightmare when we least expected it.

I recall the moment I was told by the 5-year-old child I cared for, that she didn’t like the color of my skin. One day, we were painting each other’s nails and we had each selected our favorite color nail polish. She decided she wanted to paint my nails first. As I placed my hand onto her palm, she said to me… “Hassa, I don’t like the color of your skin!” I was immediately startled. I froze within that moment and had no clue how to respond without feeling confused. I knew I had to properly address her comment without her getting confused, but also needed to have a separate conversation with her parents.

Some parents may avoid addressing alarming statements made by their children towards us or make derogatory comments about black people in our presence without the decency to remember we are standing right there. It occurs more often than people think for a lot of our fellow Black nannies and sitters.

Have you been told…?
“The children are too young to understand what racism is.”
“The kids didn’t mean it. They were kidding. Children these days, right?”
“I didn’t mean to offend you, but it was just a joke.”
“We don’t feel it is an appropriate time to discuss race with our children until they begin to discuss it in school.”
“The internet is uncontrollable nowadays. It’s the media that is teaching my child to be racists.”
“We might have said a funny comment about slaves the other day, but it truly came from a place of humour.”

This is unacceptable and unfair! We must learn to not accept our presence to be invalid because we choose to remain silent and not speak up for ourselves.

At times, we also experience racial bias while outside of the home with the children. Suddenly, our authority is being challenged. We are being viewed as the “help” the moment we step outside with the kids. Going to the park, we are given stares from strangers wondering if those are our children, adoptive children, step-children, grandchildren, or the children we just *work* for. Mothers taking photos of us and posting them to Facebook groups, hoping a fellow mom would recognize either our face or the kids and forward the photo to our employer.

Enough is enough! We are overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and at a loss for words.

Thoughts of unrecognizable ignorance begin to flutter in our minds. Our self worth is being challenged, especially when the children are not the same skin color as us. The tables suddenly turn and we find ourselves in a situation that we couldn’t fathom being in at this day in age. We have to speak up and voice our concerns. We can no longer sit in agony hoping the parents would realize their own mistakes. Making statements such as…

“I would really appreciate it if we can sit down and have a discussion about the comment that was made by the children yesterday.”
“It is imperative that we integrate a diverse set of books, movies, toys, educational games that illustrate people of color.”
“Can I take the kids with me to a park across town that children of all backgrounds tend to frequently go and play?”
“I think it would be great if we can plan a visual presentation for the kids, to talk about different races and inclusivity?”
“I don’t feel comfortable going into work today, after the incident at the park with your neighbor. I felt humiliated.”
“Have you addressed the conversation regarding racism with the kids before I started my position?“

Enough is enough! We are overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and at a loss for words. The childcare industry is centered around children and directly impacting the human beings they grow up to be. We must join in solidarity to no longer accept the bare minimum from the families we care for when it comes to addressing the topic of racism. This is a conversation that needs to be had now!

The next time you look in the mirror, remember to repeat to yourself, “I am a proud Black nanny and sitter!”

Hassanatou Barry

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