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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