babies and pregnancy · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Jewish Mom and Jamaican Nanny Can’t Communicate

Carmen Van Kerchove over at the Racialious blog tells a story about a white Jewish mother who has adopted an African child and her reaction to when her Jamaican nanny expresses the racism she has experienced from other whites in the community while caring for this child.

Back in 2004 when I first started speaking and blogging about race, I was invited to facilitate a phone discussion with a group of parents who had adopted children from outside the United States.

One of the mothers in the group was white and Jewish. She adopted her son from an African country, and was raising him in her faith. She told me that she wanted my advice on a situation she was dealing with.

Her nanny was a Jamaican woman. One day, the nanny came home and the mother noticed she looked upset. The mother asked her what was wrong, but the nanny just shook her head and said everything was fine.

The mother was concerned, so she kept prodding, but the nanny was still reluctant to say anything. The mother was persistent, and told her that this was a safe space for her to share. She said there wouldn’t be any judgments, no matter what it was about.

Finally, the nanny broke down and said, “You people don’t know how to act!”

She explained that anytime she took the child for play dates in their mostly white and Jewish neighborhood, parents would treat her brusquely and avoid eye contact. Whenever she went to a store, salespeople would follow her around to make sure she didn’t steal anything. When she went to pay for items, the cashier would treat take great pains not to touch her hand when giving her change back.

She had been putting up with this kind of discrimination for a long time now because she loved working with this family, but she didn’t know how much longer she could go on as it was wearing on her emotionally.

“Can you believe that?” the mother asked me, her voice shaking with anger.

I was about to respond by expressing how sorry I was that this level of prejudice existed in her community, when the mother continued.

“I’m going to fire her! How dare she call Jews ‘you people!’ I’m Jewish and my son is Jewish. I’m just going to have to fire her because I don’t feel safe around her anymore.”

Was Carmen too harsh on the Jewish mother? Was the Jewish mother too harsh on the Jamaican nanny? Could the Jewish mother have been a good ally if she had read more Angry Black Woman blogs?

7 thoughts on “Jewish Mom and Jamaican Nanny Can’t Communicate

  1. Wo. Shock. That felt like a slap.

    I caught the “you people” at the beginning, too, but I understood the WHY as soon as the story continued. The fact that this Jewish mother couldn't get past the “you people” and hear the racism against her nanny is horrifying to me. How could she be so callous? How could she not realize that the nanny is the one in the most vulnerable position? It's really awful.


  2. Unfortunately, you don't adopt a child of a different race and instantly get reprogrammed to think from their point of view.

    But you'd think that being more sensitive about these things would be, oh, in the child's best interest.

    But I've been known to spout weird nonsense like that.


  3. My feeling is that the mother understood – what happened to the nanny, and what it meant for her son. And she reacted out of denial and fear.
    It's a lot easier to get angry at the nanny than to compute that your friends and neighbors may be unwelcoming to your son because of the color of his skin.


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