Falmouth’s Black babysitter

A white family of four became really good friends with me while I was working at a Starbucks coffee shop a few summers ago. I was a workaholic, making people their lattes by day and being a full-time healthcare provider by night; showing up at the coffee shop in that dope green apron and leaving in sky-blue scrubs. At the end of the day, I’m all about serving the people in the way that Christ came to serve, full of grace and truth.

The parents of a five-year-old little girl and a two-year-old little boy decided to ask me to be their “nanny” after realizing how awesome I was—I suppose. I thought this offer was too good to be true. I’m a young Black man who had dreadlocks, who had been invited to Falmouth, Maine, to babysit two white children in a white space. Black men don’t just get opportunities like this so you know I was hyped to have such a privileged job offer lined up. I accepted the offer and would soon enough be taking the bus over to Falmouth every Friday morning to babysit.

I was super excited to start. The family lived in a nice home on the ocean in a town that, to me, felt like paradise. I enjoyed the luxury of being invited into their home to nanny for their beautiful, joy-filling children. I enjoyed taking care of them, playing guitar for them, singing them to sleep, reading to them, building forts and homemade cardboard houses with them. I learned a lot from those kids and their family but I was still very uncomfortable.

As I stepped off the bus every Friday morning to start my day with my two “pop-rocks,” I would notice the stares presented to me from the white teenagers passing by to get on their school buses.  You know how that works; they give you the perky lips with the downward head-nod, you try to figure out whether to show some love or to just keep it moving, later realizing that white folks are miss out on some of the best friendships that exist, due to lies fed to them through the media and through what they’re taught in their homes. ​​

I was later told by the mom of these white children, “I want them to see you. I want them to see that I have a Black male nanny.” She had been referring to white people or “wypipo.” She wanted white people to see a Black man in a white neighborhood, coming to take care of her adorable children; I was speechless in the most awkward way. I loved taking care of those two kids. I had been caring for those kids simply out of the kindness of my heart, as a nursing student and as a follower of Jesus Christ. I would do the same for any child, adult or elderly person in need of my healing hands and exceptional care.

The mom also informed me that she wanted her children to have a better Black social experience when in public; this was after her little boy received an injection by a Black pediatrician, causing him to cry like most two-year-old kids would do. The pain from the needle associated with the face of a Black man had perhaps become problematic for this small child. Her privilege reminded her that she needed to somehow fix this issue. Now I was starting to feel like a prop of some sort, handy for the show that was happening every Friday morning in Falmouth.

Was I there because of my resumé? I did not feel like I was there because of my experience as a nursing assistant and as a nursing student but more as The Help. While I helped fulfill the mother’s desire for a Black man to be seen by her white neighbors (mostly family members), providing the gift of Black magic to her children, my mental health started to be impacted more; specifically with my anxiety and depression.

Did these white parents have good intentions? Of course they did. I loved their family and appreciated all the help they offered me. Too often, white people are naive to the damage they lavish upon Black people; they make “black jokes” hoping to connect while instead, halting the healing process of the wounds already present. White folks offer help to Black folks in ways that are not required; they mean no harm while ceasing from pulling us out of the fires they created. They even yell, “I hired a Black male nanny” hoping to rescue themselves from the system they benefit from and further strengthen. Why remind a Black man that he was hired by another “white savior?” Black people already know we can’t do much without our white allies but for Heaven’s sake, do not rub it in.

I felt like I was being watched by every white person nearby. I would take the kids outside to run around and play like little kids enjoy doing. I quickly found myself worried about what the white neighbors would think of a Black man, outside playing with white kids in their ‘hood. Sure, I enjoyed the job but I did not enjoy the show I was expected to put on for these white folks. In October 2018, Corey Lewis, a black child-care entrepreneur, had the cops called on him for babysitting two white children down in Marietta, Georgia. A white woman followed him and the children to Corey’s mom’s house and waited down the street for the cops to arrive. The cops decided to do a wellness check on the children by questioning them. A white woman didn’t call the cops on a man due to her concerns for the safety of two little children. No—a white woman called the cops because she saw a Black man with two little white children.

If one of my “pop-rocks” were doing something unsafe, I wanted to know that I could use a stern tone in telling them “no” while not being perceived as an “angry Black man.” I wanted to know that I could do my job my way, as long as it didn’t violate any policies or rules. I want to know that I’m showing up to a job because I’m worth it, because I come to slay and not because of the way I look. I want to know that my social experience is also considered when white folks use Black folks as gain for their own agenda; to make their lives more convenient and “not racist.” What if someone had called the cops on me for being with these two little white kids?

I recall taking the kids to a local Starbucks one afternoon. As we would sit out in the warm sun enjoying our beverages, a few white folks walked by, giving us the side-eye. Two white women “checked in” by initiating a conversation about the two white kids in my presence. You know? The usual small-talk about how cute one’s kids are? Or asking them their names? Yeah—that kind of intrusive prying. Were these two white women skeptical of me being with these two kids like the white woman was with Corey? I can never truly be sure, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder about their approach. Perhaps they were being friendly or maybe they were analyzing an uncommon scene. After all, what is a Black man with locs doing at a white neighborhood Starbucks with two little white kids?

I, Falmouth’s Black babysitter, concluded that I loved the babysitting job, appreciated the wonderful opportunity, but that I would no longer be a white family’s prop, embellishment, “Black friend,” social experiment, political statement or their HELP. As a Black male aiming to accomplish great things in my country, I suggest that white people allow space for Black excellence to play its course. Too often, Black people aren’t able to exercise their full existence, perhaps due to anxiety that stems from being highly concerned about how we’ll be perceived by our white peers in society and in professional settings. Let us live and let us be.


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Enemies in the same uniform

Today’s post comes from my co-parent, Jeff Bouley (also known as Deacon Blue online) who has gone through a couple decades of racial education (via dating and marriage and child-rearing with me) and continues the journey not just alone but still by my side a lot of days even though we aren’t a couple anymore. I asked him to share some personal thoughts (revealed in late-night drinking/yapping sessions with me in recent weeks) about how his perspective on people has changed since the election.
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The night of the 2016 presidential election was bad as I watched a rich, pampered, ego-driven, shallow, nonsense-talking reality show personality and real estate mogul gain impressive numbers of votes and wins even in states that should have known better.

The wee hours of the “morning after” as late vote counts came in and Hillary Clinton conceded the election were worse, knowing that some half of American voters had chosen a blustering, shamelessly lying, bullying, ill-informed, ignorant, thin-skinned, uncouth, bigoted, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, etc. etc. man to be president of the United States over a woman who, whatever her flaws, was a proven and competent public servant clearly more qualified to lead a nation.

The actual “day after” when the sun was officially up and I awoke after a few hours of sleep and realized Donald Trump’s victory wasn’t a nightmare was utterly devastating.

I had never felt so hollowed out, feeling betrayed by so many of my fellow citizens who decided “real change” or “fixing the system” required throwing away our national reputation and turning back the clock on social justice gains for marginalized groups to give power to an obvious con-man.

And there was something simmering inside me—a burning aggressive energy throughout my whole body that had me on edge and prepared to literally fight.

I thought it was anger at first, but in fact I quickly realized it was something perhaps worse—because it was something that could not be as easily vented as anger. It was a grim determination and wary, anxious readiness that I can only assume is a “second cousin” to what is felt by people in the midst of major armed conflict. People who are on the battlefield; citizens trapped in cities and villages that are ravaged by civil war.

It was the activation of the “fight or flight” parts of my brain, with the full and immediate realization that there was nowhere to run—flight wasn’t an option and that meant I had to be ready to fight at any moment.

I awoke to a world in which I was surrounded by more enemies than I realized had been around me all along. Except now they were energized. They felt validated. They were empowered by the fact that their poster boy had become president-elect.

But even though I knew they were all around me in numbers so much more than I had ever imagined before, I couldn’t identify them, because they all wore the same uniform that I do.

Whiteness.

I don’t hate my whiteness. I am not wracked by so-called white guilt. However, as a person who is white I am well aware of the privilege I have from my skin color, not to mention the social advantages that come with being male, hetero and cisgendered. I am aware of the armor I wear (so light and ever-present and almost magically effective that I don’t even notice it or have to think about donning it) that almost invariably protects me from kinds of harm and mistreatment that are almost only meted to marginalized racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identity groups—and also to white women to a significant though lesser degree (though women—white or otherwise—face a greater and unique threat from rape culture and domestic abuse in this country, but I digress).

Point is, I am Caucasian and I spent more than 20 years of my life with a Black woman; we’re separated now, but Shay is still my best friend and co-parent. I have two Black children, one a grown man and the other a tween girl. I have Black in-laws. My direct and indirect involvement with Shay’s social justice and anti-racism work has added all kinds of non-white people (and non-straight and non-Christian as well) to my online circles and offline interactions. I have personally gotten to see—over and over again—how differently I can be treated by police, restaurant servers, passers-by, etc. when I am alone compared to when I am in the presence of a Black person in my family.

And now, after the election, I woke to a world full of people who clearly don’t care about Black people—whom I do care about—and these enemies to what I hold dear are all around me. It’s not like I haven’t been aware for years upon years about systemic racism, institutional racial bias and even personal racism still being nurtured in white hearts. But I hadn’t realize just how much racist animosity and bigotry was still simmering in white minds and hearts and souls just waiting to explode outward and be expressed once a man was elected president who used racially charged jargon and fanned the fires of racism to stir up support and did little if anything to speak out against white nationalists and racist hate groups who were openly supporting and endorsing him.

Trump has picked for key posts like chief strategist and attorney general men who have clearly racist histories or white nationalist/white supremacy ties that show they will not be amenable to racial equity or enforcing/advancing civil rights. Racially and religiously oriented hate crimes went up markedly right after the election, many of them committed in Trump’s name specifically. Shay herself experienced a disturbingly aggressive racially bigoted exchange just a few days after the election in the most liberal city in our all-too-white state of Maine—my beloved ex-wife in the crosshairs. Many in her professional and social circles of people of color have talked about similar experiences they have gone through or that have affected their friends or relatives.

And so I am in a kind of war zone. Overnight, a civil war was silently and implicitly declared in which a huge portion of America—specifically, white people, who turned out in a majority for Trump across all gender, age, income and educational demographics—decided they “want their country back.” Who want people who aren’t white and/or Christian “back in their place.” Who are proud, whether they know it or admit it, that they are part of a group of people that conquer and oppress and push down people who aren’t white to keep a stranglehold on power, money and opportunities. Who see nothing wrong with the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Black people because that’s in the past (ignoring the fact both still have substantial effects in the modern day) and because white people won “fair and square.”

Somehow, bringing our society closer to equality (though we’re still far from that goal) made them feel they were “losing” and that being more fair to other groups was giving those people “special rights.”

And they reacted by naming a man to be president who has made it clear he sees Black people, Latinx people and Muslim people in particular as damaged, dangerous, problematic and lesser. They have reacted with either indifference to increased violence and risks faced by marginalized groups of people or have reacted with verbal and/or physical violence toward them.

I am surrounded by enemies who want to hurt or disenfranchise (or both) people I care about and people whom the people I love care about, too. And I cannot identify most of them because their uniform is the same as mine and many of the people like-minded to me. White.

I go out of the house now with the clear knowledge that easily a quarter of the people around me (maybe even half or more sometimes) are enemies to me and to the people I love. Knowing that while I may be protected by my own whiteness that my Black loved ones are not. That people in my circles of friends, associates and acquaintances who are Black (or Latinx, or LGBTQ, or Muslim) are at higher risk.

That, in fact, I myself am at increased risk in a sense because I may have to physically protect those people from harm by people who wear my same uniform—that white skin.

I won’t know the enemies until they reveal themselves. Perhaps by telling a racist joke to me that only a few weeks or months ago people would have been ashamed or afraid to tell to a stranger. Perhaps by expressing to me how much better America will be under Trump. Perhaps by actually threatening or attacking my ex-wife or one of my children.

To some degree, I suppose I’m getting a small and slightly analogous taste of what Black people go through every day: Walking out the door and never knowing how many racialized things they will endure. Will it “just” be the microaggressions or will it be something more overt and perhaps dangerous? Knowing that they cannot shed the very brown skin that marks them as racial targets every moment of every day.

In that respect, though, I’m still protected. I may go out hyper-aware that my fellow whitefolk may do bigoted things in my presence and I may have to react to that, but the people who hail a new American social order under Trump and hope for gains in white supremacy look at me and probably mostly see a potential ally. I wear the same white-skinned uniform as them and they likely assume that I am an ally until proved otherwise.

But I cannot afford to see the people around me who share my uniform of whiteness as allies. For the sake and the safety of those I love, I now have to view every white person at every moment as a potential enemy, particularly when my Black loved ones are with me.

And thus a part of myself is murdered. One of the first acts of violence in the wake of the Trump victory was to kill most of the hope I had that America was progressing—far too little over the decades and far too slowly, but still moving forward. No more do I have that feeling. I can only see risks and dangers for my family from potentially half the people around us, and wonder when the forward progress will begin again.

And how many decades it will take us to get back to a place where I feel I can let down my guard and not be looking for the next enemy at all times.
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The inhumanity train ride or where are the good white people?

For those of us in the northeast corner of the United States, the past month has just been one non-stop snow storm. Poor little Boston, the city I actually work in, looks like the snowpocalypse. The amount of snow in Massachusetts actually makes the snow we have in Maine (the state I legally reside in) look like child’s play and we have a lot of snow.

As one can imagine, the past month has been nothing short of a clusterfuck when it comes to travel and schedules…schedule, what’s that? The snow dates need snow dates at this point. Which is how I found myself on a train back to Maine on a Friday afternoon, the one day that I strive to be home in Maine. Yet when you are behind in work due to snow and the bookkeeper has retired and your 2014 financial records need to be closed out, you work when the snow allows.

The Friday afternoon train back to Maine is one of my least favorite trains of the week, a caustic mix of commuters, vacationers/daytrippers and others with the tension of high expectations in the air. This Friday’s train ride, sadly, did not disappoint. Considering that earlier in the week, I spent three-plus hours on a train that never even managed to get out of the state of Maine due to a broken-down freight train on the tracks (and ultimately ended up backing up all the way to where I live), the ride home was looking pretty uneventful and at only 30 minutes behind; pretty timely, and making me fairly happy…until it was time to exit the train at my stop.

As I am making my way to the door (mind you this is an Amtrak train) with my bags, I end up standing by a family that includes a young boy of 10 or so, a woman who appears to be the grandmother and on the other side of the aisle perhaps the boy’s mom and a sibling. Standing there, I noticed the grandmother and boy looking at me which honestly is nothing new. I am Black in Maine; looky-loos come with the territory. Depending on my mood, I ignore, smile or give the look of disapproval. Last night, my mind was a blank slate as it registered that the boy had just said something about Black people while giving me what we in my house call the look of stank. The grandmother leans over to the boy who then proceeds to say very loudly and clearly “Black people kill White people” his grandmother gave me a sympathetic look, the boy stared at me, behind me white people were queuing up to get off the train, the young white man in front of me looked away and adjusted his ear buds. In that moment, I felt my own humanity disappear. To be Black, to be othered has too often meant a white person, even a child, can snatch your humanity away just because of the color of your skin.

Yet I am a woman on a life journey, a journey to find my voice and demand my place at the table of humanity. So with little hesitation, I found myself leaning over with tears in my eyes, telling that boy that “Bad people kill people. Period.” I also told him that not all white people are good nor are all Black people bad. I asked him where he lived and he told me Winslow, Maine. I told him that the world is larger than Winslow and hopefully he would grow up and see that this world is filled with all kinds of people. The kid stared back at me in shock, the grandmother just looked at me and the man behind me said “Good for you for speaking up.” Excuse me…good for me? This is the world we inhabit now, where action is considered extraordinary because too often we choose no action.  We fear discomfort, we don’t want to lose our place or get messy so instead we bear witness to the dehumanization of others and offer tentative head pats. By the way, the man behind me was another Maine to Boston commuter whom I regularly see on the train.

When the train finally stopped and I got off, it hit me that I was more pissed off about the fact that a gaggle of white people had heard this kid and not one had the courage to speak up. Something that I have seen far too many times in recent years. As for the boy, clearly what he is exposed to in his life is setting him up for hateful and fear-based beliefs.

In the end, we all have choice: how are we living and what actions are we modeling for others in our lives. Words without direct actions have little meaning. We can claim all sorts of things but if our actions don’t support the words, we are lying to ourselves. To live fully and completely means we lean into a life where we don’t run from the messy or uncomfortable; where we put on our muck boots and brace for the mess. We stand in truth for truth and if justice is on our sides, we give no fucks. So I muse aloud, “Where are the good white people?” The ones who are willing to break the barriers of discomfort for truth and justice. I know there are some, but it seems at times that there are so few I can’t help but have moments in which I believe they are about as real as the superheroes in comic books and movies.