I don’t know—maybe her balls were just hanging low that day. How else to explain how easily it rolled off her tongue? “You’re not like all the other black men. You go to work and pay your bills. You’re not lazy like the rest of them.”
That was the pearl that Ms. Pearl, our former nanny, dropped on Nick one cold winter morning, as he stooped down to kiss our Mari and rub my pregnant belly and make his way to his job as the editor-in-chief of a travel magazine. Surely, Nick’s back stiffened. I know mine did. Silence clung to the air between us like a nor’easter—thick and frigid and heavy and gray. This sweet little old Guyanese lady, charged with caring for my African-American girl pie while we, the married, loving, accomplished parents toiled away our day earning cash to pay the mortgage and the nanny's salary, had managed to, in one breath, slap the crap out of us (and black people in general) with insult, stereotype and backhanded praise.
Like, how do you even begin to respond to a “you’re not like the rest of them” statement and then leave your baby in your insulter’s care? And if she was willing to say that to the faces of her employers, what other stereotypes—certainly more bruising in their insult—did Ms. Pearl have tucked away in the recesses of her brain? And how much of it seeped out of her mouth when we weren’t around—in earshot of our impressionable little black girl?
Let's just say that Ms. Pearl's services ended soon thereafter. But even in firing her, we struggled with how to deal with the immigrant perception that Americans in general and African Americans in particular, suck at parenting.
I wrote this piece in response to the flap over the Wall Street Journal excerpt of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which homegirl claims Chinese kids are smarter and stronger than their American counterparts because their mothers have more parenting gangsta than ours. Uh huh. See what I've got to say about it over on the MyBrownBaby page at Parenting.com's The Parenting Post. If you're so moved, leave a comment.