Monday 13 March 2017

Adz and I (2014) Photo: Pritham D'Souza (Photosynthe)

"Are you the nanny?" 

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question when I was out with Adz, well... I'd be about twelve dollars richer (yes, I keep count.) I understand, I really do, that it can be a bit jarring to see a white child with a brown person, though in this day and age it shouldn't be surprising. At the same time, however, should the automatic assumption be that I am the nanny, rather than the mother? It is a question I've asked myself several times, usually after one of said encounters.

Being part of a mixed race, mixed culture relationship is not easy. As an Indian woman, born and brought up in India, I was indoctrinated into my own culture and it was an abrupt transition when I first moved to England for graduate school. I met and fell in love with my partner within the first few months of school. I didn't plan on falling in love with a white Canadian man. I kept it to myself for the first couple years. It was only when I realised that this relationship was serious that I opened up to my mom. I told her I was seeing someone. When she asked, I might have lied stretched the truth and told her I was dating an Indian boy. Exactly how I was going to pass off my very white, redheaded, blue eyed boy as Indian was something I hadn't even thought about. It was after we'd decided to move in together that I confessed to mom. Surprisingly, she took it quite well, though I did have to go through some snarky comments about white Indian men from her. The rest of my family also took it reasonably well, though with some mild racist attitudes.

Mixed race relationships and racism

Being in a mixed race relationship in London was fine. It was a cosmopolitan enough city, that we didn't get much grief. At least, not that much. I did get yelled at on the street, told not to take "our men", got called a brown bitch and told to go back home. Par for the course, obviously. We also got quite a bit of flak from Indian people in London, especially since we lived so close to Southall, a predominantly Indian suburb of London. I got asked (in Hindi) why I couldn't find someone from my own community. We got plenty of sideways angry looks, but not enough that I was so bothered about them. As far as I was concerned, my family were fine with my relationship, even though mom refused to acknowledge the whole 'living together' bit, but well, you can't have everything.

We moved to Liverpool a few years after. Surprisingly, Liverpool was a lot more accepting, even though we were the only mixed race couple in Hoylake, our little seaside village. I can't remember any incident in Liverpool that targeted my race. My football affiliation though, got me plenty of abuse but this is just because I loved wandering around Liverpool in an Arsenal shirt, being deliberately provocative (Sorry, Liverpool and Everton fans, but you guys are so easy to wind up).

Through all these moves and life changes, though, our relationship stayed strong, and Kay and I got married in 2006. Adz was born soon after. No one in England ever asked me if she was mine. It was just assumed. She was a local. We were accepted.

We moved to Canada when Adz was two. I'd been told that Canada was a lot easier to live in as a mixed race couple. I was excited to move here. We'd been planning on moving for a while and we picked Edmonton, after a series of circumstances meant that we could actually move with a good nest egg.

I came into Canada on a tourist visa, with the intention of being sponsored as a permanent resident. By this time, I'd lived in England long enough that I was a naturalised citizen, and it was reasonably easy for me to come to Canada. We had a nice apartment picked out in a great part of the city and as I couldn't work until I became an official permanent resident, I was happy to be a full-time mom for the first time in two years.

When people assume you're the nanny!

Adz and I started off our Canadian adventure well. We explored our neighbourhood, found playgrounds, and favourite lunch places, went out for ice cream and coffee (for me), discovered farmers' markets and enjoyed the gorgeous Edmonton river valley. I got used to the famous Canadian friendliness and even though my British/ Indian soul was suspicious of all the smiles and sincerity and the yoga, it was a refreshing change to hear hellos and have polite bus drivers. I spent my time house hunting as well, as we hoped to move into a home soon.

The first time that our differences were pushed to the forefront was a bit of a shock, especially since Adz and I were getting used to being smiled at and doted on more often. We were at the arts centre, and this nice looking older lady came up to us, and asked me if Adz was mine. I smiled and said yes, thinking that she was going to comment on Adz's cuteness (and she was adorably cute, with her big brown eyes and auburn curls). The woman turned to me, and glared... and said 'Jesus will smite you woman, for claiming this pure white child as yours'. Woah, there! I nervously backed away with a rictus smile and legged it from there as fast as I could. I was shaken, for sure, but I put it down to mental illness on the part of the woman.

I put that incident out of my mind, and we continued to live our lives. The second time, however, was more deliberate. Adz and I were at the park this time, and she was running around, exploring. I decided to talk to a pretty young lady who was pushing her child on the swing. As I said hello, I got a cold stare back. I just assumed that she wasn't used to having people approach her, and smiled, and asked if she lived around there. At that point, the lady looked back at me, then at Adz and asked, quite deliberately, "Shouldn't you be doing your job and looking after the child?" I was confused, and said, "Yes, but we just moved here" – still not getting what she was getting at. At that point, she looked at me again, and said "As the nanny, you should really be keeping an eye on the kid". I was too shocked and embarrassed to respond, quickly gathering Adz and walking home. My husband was also gobsmacked when I called him in tears.

But still – mistakes happen, right?

That said, my next experience was in equal parts amusing and horrifying. I was sitting at the edge of the swimming pool with a Filipino woman. Our kids were all having lessons together, and I got to know this lady, and we usually chatted off and on. One day though, a middle-aged white lady came up and sat next to us. We both smiled at her and asked her if her child was in lessons. She responded in the affirmative, pointing out her child. And then (I swear I am NOT making up this shit), she looked at both of us and said "it must be really nice for you nannies to get together when the kids are in lessons, do you come here often?". Both the Filipino lady and I looked at each other in absolute disbelief, and she said, "they're our kids". And the other lady says, "oh, I just assumed you are the nannies, you look so different from them". What. The. Hell.

There was no apology, just a matter of fact, "you look different". Wow! What can I say? Every time I've told this story to people, they react with equal parts horror and astonishment that someone could be so tone deaf and have such a lack of awareness.

Thankfully, as Adz has grown up, she's begun to look a lot more like me. That said, I still get the side eyes when I am out with Master Sky and her, and we've been asked many times after that, usually by white people, if I am the nanny. Adz calls me mommy rather loudly and that puts an end to that line of thought.

"I am not the f*****g nanny"

I started writing this post about three months ago. As it turns out, this BBC video of Robert Kelly, an expert on South Korea, being gatecrashed by his children went viral, and it was almost like this post was fated to be.

When this video first surfaced, a lot of people automatically assumed that the woman who comes rushing in to get the kids is the nanny or the maid.

I didn't. My first thought was, that poor mom! Then I laughed, actually, as this is exactly something I have done myself. My husband had an early morning interview with CBC, and Adz woke up, and decided to head into his study to say "good mornging dadabat" (Aside: ahhhh, don't you just LOVE it when they mispronounce words?). It wasn't a video interview, thankfully, but I've never moved so fast in my life. If it had been on video, you'd have seen me in ratty sweats, with the worst case of bedhead, frantically dragging a six-year-old out of the study, with wild shushing movements.

But when I saw the posts on social media and other newspaper sites, I was disheartened at how many people had automatically assumed that the woman in the video was the nanny or the maid. As someone in a mixed race relationship with kids, and as someone who is relatively colour blind when it comes to race, it didn't even occur to me that people would assume such a thing. Though, after my experiences, I shouldn't have been surprised.

I did some more research, and came to the conclusion, though I might be wrong, that the majority of people making this assumption were white, middle-class people. And again, to my dismay, a lot of them were Canadians and British. It was so easy to stereotype a Korean woman as a maid or nanny, especially since she is with a white man. Looks like racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes are still alive and kicking.

Breaking the stereotypes

I came across a lot of excuses for why people assumed that Jung-a Kim was Robert Kelly's nanny, rather than his wife. Here, I want to debunk some of those excuses as, pardon my language, bullshit.

I know that there are a few nannies in Canada, who are Filipino. I happen to be really good friends with a lot of them. I also happen to be friends with the mums of the kids they look after. I also know mums from all different backgrounds, as well as nannies and grandmothers and grandfathers and dads and babysitters. So it did make me sad to read some of the stereotyping that happened after this video went viral.

1. She looked so panicked, it was like she feared for her job.

Oh yeah, when something like this happened to me, I definitely feared for a job – my husband's job as an expert, as it happens. As the wife of a man who gets regularly called upon for his expertise, I would have reacted the exact same way, had my husband been on Skype with the BBC (I mean, it's the BBC. It's a big deal). Trust me, panicked is the least of how she would look.

2. She looked frantic and dishevelled.

Have you ever tried looking after a baby and a toddler and keeping them in line? I am mom to an almost six month old baby and a MUCH older child, and my normal look is like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. As I like to joke, I am awake and dressed. In actual clothes. That's enough to get me out. I work from home and make no apologies for looking like a slummy mummy. Nannies don't have a 'look'. Neither do mommies.

3. She was so rough with the children. A mother would have been gentler.

Give me a minute. BwahaHAHAHAHAHAHA! You're out of your mind if you think moms are gentle with their kids all the time. Getting my daughter ready for school in the mornings is a battle that I almost never win if I didn't have at least one moment, of "stay goddamn still, so I can brush your goddamn rat's nest of hair!" Cue - "owwwww, mom, owwwww, stop it mom, owwwww". Yeah, I am not gentle all the time, or if I am in a rush, or panicked in the first place. Show me a mom who is soft and gentle all the time, and I'll show you a saint. And for what it's worth, the nannies I know are a lot nicer to the children in their charge.

4. The kids look white.

Yeah, sorry, genetics is a thing. Both my mixed race kids look white. This excuse is, in my opinion, a cop-out. Kids don't necessarily look like their parents, and mixed race kids will favour one over the other. Sometimes. This is something I feel strongly about, as you've read earlier in my post.

My Adz has a good way of putting it: "I am like a bunny, mom, in the summer I go brown and in the winter I am white."

5. She looks so much younger than him.

I once got on a bus in London with my then-boyfriend, now husband, Kay. The driver gave me a child ticket, then gave Kay an adult ticket and a long, hard glare. I was twenty-three. Kay was twenty-nine. I still have that child ticket.

What I think that this video clip has made quite clear, though, is that racial stereotyping is still a thing. In 2017. Whether conscious or unconscious, we still have biases and one of them is about mixed race marriages and children. In a situation like this those cultural biases come to a head. To me, Jung-a Kim is a superwoman – daaaamn, those reflexes! Robert Kelly is a lucky man to have her in his life.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Confronting biases and making changes

In this post, I wrote about my mom facing her stereotypes about gay people, and being courageous enough to change her preconceived ideas, ideas that were mostly church based, to be fair to her.

If your first assumption was that Jung-a Kim was the nanny, then maybe this is a good opportunity to take a close look at your biases and make a positive change. It doesn't take a lot to just say 'what beautiful children', instead of 'are you the nanny?'.

We can make this world truly colour blind and more accepting, if we are willing to let go of our assumptions and give people a chance. We don't choose who we fall in love with. We just do. And if more people felt the love, then maybe we wouldn't be fearful, intolerant or hate filled. And this world would be a much better place for it.


  1. Dear Michelle.. Its been a long time since I've visited your blog. I just love reading everything you write and realize how much I've missed your blog. I can say with pride that I never thought of her as the nanny and only as a mom.. but many ppl around me did offcourse.. it's sad that while we are moving so fast ahead, somewhere back in our minds we still have that stupid feeling lingering around - RACISM (deliberately or un-knowingly)

    1. Hi Michelle, I thought she was the mother, at first. Then when I saw how slim and young she looked, I thought maybe she was the nanny. Slim and young! I didn't notice her skin colour or anything else.

      I always love your blog, Michelle.

  2. Michelle, I think this goes with the territory whenever anyone moves away from her home country and chooses to settle down elsewhere.The comments that you have experienced come from ignorance & a sense of superiority. It is a pity you were treated so badly because you have a lovely child who is your joy & pride. I feel your pain.I have realized that cruel & thoughtless remarks should be ignored & instead we have to feel sorry for the ignorant souls who make them.Be proud of who you are and be happy because mere words can never break you.

  3. I am completely perplexed by this whole thing. I never bothered to watch the(in??)famous video. But from the pictures, the kid doesn't look as white as his dad to me. And your daughter doesn't look white to me either. (If that matters at all.) Besides, when anyone sees the two of you together, it's obvious who married above their station.
    In my own experience, I've worked with Doug, my father. Some people were shocked to find out we were related, and some not at all. I've never been in the socioeconomic circles where anyone would ever assume I had a nanny. It seems so odd to me, with blended families probably out numbering nannies about 100 to 1 in this part of rural Canada.

  4. My friend Mi Mi was really upset by the assumption that the mother was the nanny, as she and her husband are different ethnicities and she often has to face prejudice. I didn't assume the lady was an employee, mainly because I'm such a guttersnipe I don't have any friends who can afford a nanny. Nannies don't figure in my worldview!

    I'm sorry you've had to face such abuse in your life. I've Angloindian heritage on my grandfather's side, and I've often wondered if my relatives had to face much, but they've never mentioned any.

  5. Michelle, this is a great post. I'm sorry that you have to deal with this kind of ignorance. No matter how much we progress, there will always be those people, I think. My sister has six beautiful brown children, and being a blue eyed redhead, she is subjected to similar remarks, assumptions, and stares. Some of the things people have said to her are astounding. And in front of the children. Keep spreading awareness, and keep your positivity.

  6. I love what you wrote, Michelle. My husband along with a few friends had the same discussion over dinner last week. I'm shocked by how many people assumed that the lady was the nanny! Thank you for speaking up about it.

  7. Michelle, it s a great post! I loved this 'We can make this world truly colour blind and more accepting'. We have been looked at in places where didn't expect to see a brown skin. I feel you and thank you for speaking up. Wonderfully written!!

    1. Congrats on your new little one!


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