The black au pair. She’s a soft woman, funny, silly, some people have gone so far as to say “good with kids.” She enjoys working, up to a point, and feels a great pride in earning her own money. At the moment the work is not inspiring but she does it because she has to pay for her studies, she loves academia.
She has never done this before, au pair, she doesn’t get it, the job description, it doesn’t make sense to her. Lift, fetch and carry, take someone else’s kids home and to extra murals, make lunch, do homework, ensure no devices are used during the day, play with them.
She doesn’t understand why they don’t go to aftercare where they can play with other kids, make friends, be social, be children, just like she did when she was at school. She doesn’t get it, she doesn’t understand it. It is a new concept, a new space, a brand new position, a job. So she goes at it the only way she knows how, protecting herself.
Observing what she can, gathering information, watching, learning to chameleon when necessary. She tightropes between each child, each of them completely different, each of them on their own tightrope, 5 of them, ranging from 7- 15 years of age.
She navigates the space, their space, navigates new relationships, between children and parents, children and black domestic worker, black domestic worker and parents.She takes it all in , only showing her face, the rest is covered in armour so as not to let them touch her sensitive black skin.
She protects herself from the father. She has learnt that this is a must. Middle aged white men have a special box in her mind where face blends with race and unknown space. Expectation often leaves her exposed and questioning when it comes to middle-aged white men. So she protects herself from them.
She protects herself from white wives because wives have eyes like knives that see things that aren’t there because black skin, young, black skin is so fantastically rare. So she puts on her armour and covers her skin.
She has never done this before, au pair, but the world has prepared her to be ready and willing for everything, for the opportunity, so she placed herself there.Time has passed and things have become solid, opinions have become truths.
A meeting is arranged and the relationships assessed. A month down the line the parents say, she is too hard, too cold, to ruff in her way of speaking. They say she lacks a soft touch and refer to the past au pair and the au pair before that, both of them white, both of them more wealthy than she.
The au pair looks at herself through their eyes, her jaw clenched, her legs neatly bent at the knee over a couch with way too many cushions in a room that never gets used, next to a coffee table with vogue magazines neatly places beside silver candle holders that have never held candles.
She sees herself through their eyes and realises that she has never been here before.She has never had to just be something, a title, a job description. She has always been a woman first, been black first. She realises how protective she has become, so protective of the things that so often people try to touch or take away. She has ever been here before. She realises for the first time in her entire life that not everyone in the world will try to take these precious things away from her.
Image: John Edwin Mason.