By Enhle Khumalo (@Enhle1994)
Enhle writes of a recent experience baby sitting for a white family. In it she describes the mundane mainfestations of South Africa’s race relations and in the end finds that the six year old has the most refreshing take.
I had not directly looked into a blue eye in weeks. I go to a predominately Black university, my friends are black, and the people that serve me over most counters are black, but the money was good so I took a babysitting job for a white family.
Typically, like most people speaking of sensitivities, the need to say “I don’t have a real problem with white people” is a declaration I feel I have to make. It will make this writing seem tidier and less harsh. At face value it seems like a weak position. But really, I do not have an inkling of hate in my heart. My hands are up. Do not shoot. I do, however, live by politics which position me in an arrg position in relation to whites- those that own the world and subsequently own me and so forth and so on and stuff like that.
It was not before long when I became the subject of curiosity. The first thing about my identity I had to expand on was my hair.
“Just like how you plait your hair, like a French plait, I plait mine.”
“Yes, they’re synthetic.”
“No, I don’t have to comb it.”
This was followed by a session on how to pronounce my name. I knew I wouldn’t win this war but I found pleasure in watching them do tongue push-ups. Is that sweat I see on the fathers’ brow? I suppose there’s such a thing as thinking too hard. The world we live in is tricky! …Anyway, they were left thinking my name is pronounced “Engle”. I figured my name is mine, I do not need them to pronounce it properly for it to matter. I accepted defeat as long as they didn’t try to give me a European name instead. Plus, they’d forget my name as soon as they turned the corner because their biggest concerns about having a Black in their house would take over. They’re probably wondering if they’d get back from dinner to a home with a missing phone or something, or if I’d cough on their daughter. And whether she’d die.
Their blue eyes peacocked as I spoke. They opened-wide with glee and curios wonder as I spoke of my Blackness and fed their fetish.
I wondered if black men were met with this much curiosity. And if they were, were they asked about their aesthetics or their ambitions? I also wondered if a black man would be hired to enter their home in their absence. I figured the answer was no. The husband would be too threatened by the potential size of the black man’s penis. I then wondered if a man would take up a nanny job, I wondered if his masculinity would feel much too wounded to play tea-time for 20 minutes of his life. I reckoned patriarchy isn’t anyone’s best friend and did an internal chuckle.
This was followed by a series of gender related questions which produced grotesque answers. For instance, a man would have spoken about how much he expected to get paid per hour. If the man had not brought it up, it would have been brought up by his employers, at which point he would be given ample room to negotiate. I know this. I know this for sure. I am omniscient because, feminism. People don’t skirt around issues that really matter when it comes to men. With women, however, we’re left to talk about hair. HAIR. And not only are we left to speak of it, we are made to explain our choices linked to it. Toni Morrison’s critique resonates with me. She writes of distraction. She says:
“It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
I am sad to say that even with my feminist verbose, I was not brave enough. I worked the entire shift not knowing how much I would get paid by the end of the night. I must decolonize my mind. I feel dim. I want to cry.
So, I know I seem to be making sweeping statements. However, I don’t live under a rock. I’ve seen enough, hear enough. I’m careful not to dismiss my argument out of fear that I am ‘over-generalizing’.
I thought since I was to be treated like a case study, I would ask their daughter questions about this and that related to race. It turns out I did not have to dig deep as the daughter, a 6 year old, brought up the fact that her previous nanny was ‘brown’, but she couldn’t remember her nannies name. She then added that Samaaanthaaaa is her actual nanny. Samantha is white.
I then asked her if she has any friends that look like me at school. She said, “uhm, Bus..si”, she paused, “I can’t remember her name.”
I realized that she didn’t know my name either.
You know, her parents are old enough to have manners and ask what my name is. Their mispronunciation of MY name will then be used as the joke of the evening to make light of our differences. Their lack of skill is what’s actually comedic, I thought. But anyway, I shan’t curse the darkness.
Too bad their daughter is young and doesn’t understand social etiquette, so she was just being what her parents were not brave enough to out rightly confront. At least their daughter did not laugh at my name. She mentioned that I am “brown” as many times as she had mentioned that she is ‘peach’. My Black girl ego spring-timed and I thought: Yaas girl. I’m black, your white and we’re honest. I liked this 6 year old.
I’m curled up on their coach, freezing, I’m sure I’m tapping on the lack-of-sufficient-thermal’ deaths’ door. How do youuu people live like this?!!. I’ve always wanted to say this about them.
I mean, this life is oats when it could be a McFlurry.