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Life with Lavendar in London town

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Not the Nanny

The perils of working from home with children was highlighted in a most delightful way last week when Robert Kelly's live BBC interview went viral. If you have no clue what I mean, check this out:

The clip did the rounds quickly.  Friends were eager to share the charm and humour in this 40 second clip. When I watched it, the Husband said he could hear me laughing from downstairs. Even writing about it now brings on a chuckle. 

I clocked early on that the children were mixed race so I assumed that the woman who slid so spectacularly into frame was their mum. The little girl in her yellow cardigan became my hero.

The next day there was online debate whether the woman was the nanny or the mum. The clip had gone viral and the woman was being referred to as the nanny. At this point, I was unsure what she was so after some checking, I read that the woman was most definitely the mum. 

I was at a party later and the video came up in conversation. We watched it, laughed and afterwards my friends spoke about the nanny in the clip.

She's not the nanny. She's the mum.

No no. She's the nanny.

No she's not.  She's the mum. 

No, she's the nanny. 

I let it go.  I'm not sure what the reasons were for the insistence that the woman was the nanny. We didn't discuss it but it left me feeling uneasy because in 40 seconds, you probably make that assumption based on body language or race. I hoped it wasn't the latter.

Swiftly, the widespread assumption that Jung-a-Kim, the woman in the video, was the nanny or maid sparked media interest and debate over cultural stereotyping and casual racism. I  jumped on the bandwagon and posted this article on my Facebook. The resulting discussion was wide ranging from affirmations that 'Nannygate' was indeed racist to comments that it was her body language and behaviour that made her seem nanny-like. Which in itself is a whole other topic of subjugation. 

The most relevant question raised within my own circle was:

Why does it even matter?

Why could we all not just enjoy the clip and not query why people assumed that Jung-a-Kim was the nanny? What's wrong with being a nanny anyway? Nothing.

When I asked myself the question, why does it matter, this is what I came up with.

Even if only one person out of all the thousands that viewed the clip made the assumption that Jung-a Kim was the nanny based on racial stereotyping, that is one person too many. Because assumptions like that spread and take root unless you call them out early. Assumptions like that will eventually affect my life. They already have. 

Asian woman. 

Servant. Maid. Nanny. Mail order bride. Subservient. Victim. Vixen. Prostitute. Dragon Lady.

All such cliches but these stereotypes live on as demonstrated by the reaction to this clip. For I'm pretty sure that more than one person based their nanny assumption on race.*  

In my experience, it is not overt racism that is the most damaging or hurtful. When someone tells you to your face that you should go back to where you came from you fucking Chinese cunt,** a least you know what you are dealing with. 

It is the subtle, covert judgement that is the most dangerous. Or what Jen McGuire calls casual, almost benign stereotyping. She writes:

It's this sort of casual, almost benign stereotyping that can ultimately be so dangerous. Just because it's not aggressive or overt doesn't mean it's not changing our world view. In fact, because it can be so much more difficult to pinpoint, it's also harder to call out.

It's the kind of stereotyping, such as the case here with Jung-a-Kim, where because it is subtle or unintentional that you are told to stop making a mountain out of a molehill. That it is harmless. That you are looking for something that isn't there.  Or that you are imagining it.

If you have never experienced any form of racism nor stereotyping in your life that has affected you adversely, then you are lucky. So have some empathy, if you can, when I say:

We are not imagining it.

* I am not exempt. I have been racist. I make assumptions all the time. I can be judgmental. I try and have respect and empathy. But I don't always. In this instance, because I have grown up with this type of institutionalised racism, I am calling it out. But I have been wrong as well in other cases. 

**The Husband disagrees. He says he would prefer low level racism, even if it is more insidious, than someone coming at him with a knife shouting, 'Come here you fucking Paki' (true story)