There’s a blooper video currently all over the internet. An expert on South Korean politics is interviewed by the BBC but halfway through his small children bound right in and interrupt him live on television. With James Bond speed and agility, a woman skids right in, swiftly removes the children and crawls back to close the door.
It has been reposted again and again and discussed on national television with most people finding it funny. Other people have noticed bigger questions being raised. Now, I disagree with the New Statesman and others arguing how it’s symbolic of the patriarchy in action because I see it the chaos that comes with working from home when you have children, plus a woman desperately trying not to appear on camera.
But one thing I would like to discuss is the almost universal assumption that the woman is the family’s nanny. The woman is the man’s wife, yet even on the British television show This Morning, she has been referred to as a nanny.
Why is that?
The children are both clearly mixed race, and a South Korean expert can quite reasonably be considered to live in South Korea. It therefore would be reasonable to assume that the man – who is white – might have married a Korean woman. Yet when an Asian woman runs in to scoop out the two children, the immediate assumption is that she is a nanny.
A respectable white man on television is usually seen with a respectable, glamorous white woman. Conversely, women like how his wife was portrayed, Asian, dressed down, dealing with children are often portrayed as the nannies of rich respectable white families. Based on stereotypes, his wife was assumed to be a nanny. Had a white woman come bounding in, dressed down, hair up, no one would think to assume she was the nanny – despite the two children not being white.
I am sure that his wife is not cut up at being assumed to be the nanny. I am sure that she is laughing over being caught on television when she least expected it. The assumptions, however, throw up a massive reality for women of colour in relationships with white men.
The first microaggression I noticed was when I was standing in a queue in a Sainsburys Cafe with my white male partner. He had ordered for two and we had been talking throughout the entire transaction. We moved aside for the cashier to take the next person’s order, then she pointedly looked at me like I had been wasting her time and said “hello, ne-ext!” I looked at the person behind, who had been edging forward and I explained she had just processed my order with his. She looked at us both and said “Oh. Sorry.”
At the time, all I thought was “she didn’t think we were together because we’re different races – even though we’ve been talking the whole time.” and then forgot about it until it kept happening, again and again. Third wheel dinners with him and white female friends meant the white female friend was always treated as his girlfriend by waiters. Even when we were alone together, I found myself considered to be his friend before I was considered to be the woman he loves.
On a more baffling level, on the odd occasion where I am looking glamorous, I find myself sized up by men who assume I am his escort – especially in swanky environments. In Cambodia, he was even questioned by a local man why he had “chosen” me tonight over a local girl.
What is it about women of colour that it takes such effort and mental gymnastics for people to consider that white men might love us? The reality is often that when people accept my boyfriend is attracted to a non-white woman, it’s often on the grounds of hypersexualised ideals of what women of colour are like. Not my personality, not love but more based on my body and what I might be like in bed.
When we assume that women of colour are only ever the friends or escorts of white men, the nannies of white families, when we avoid the reality that some women of colour are in relationships with white men, we reaffirm age old stereotypes about brown women. That we only ever serve white families, not part of mixed families. That we are nothing more than sexual creatures, not someone to be loved.
Fundamentally it reiterates the belief that we are inferior to white women. That we may raise their children, be friends and mistresses to their husbands, but in the end white men will only love and marry white women.
So while I can laugh at Mrs Kelly’s skid into the room as not a lot more than a family trying to balance the stresses of raising toddlers with working from home, seeing people assume she is the nanny leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.