On June 6, as the country reeled from the murder of George Floyd, Stephanie Bauchum decided the time was finally right to share her experiences with racism in the childcare industry. Bauchum, a professional nanny and founder of lifestyle and apparel brand Nanny Tees, invited eight other Black nannies across the U.S. to participate in a live panel discussion on her Nanny Tees Facebook page.
These women were among the most elite in the industry: newborn care specialists, agency owners, early childhood educators, and more. Despite their accolades and decades of experience, these pros are constantly doubted and discriminated against by agencies, clients, and community members. Some said they bring their IDs on walks with their charges in case the neighbors question them. Others carry letters from their employers to present if stopped by police. Some worry that they’ll be reported for trespassing when they enter clients’ homes after dark. And all of them have noticed stares while working in certain affluent neighborhoods.
Even still, the nannies continue to push forward: setting boundaries, starting hard conversations, advocating for change, and shaping and educating the children in their care.
Here’s what six Texas-based nannies have to say about nannying while Black. The interviews below have been edited for length and clarity.
Founder & CEO of Nanny Tees
I really think that it takes a village to raise children, [and that’s why I love what I do]. Some people don’t understand the true meaning of what a nanny is–we’re mistaken as babysitters. Nannying is a career. It’s 8 to 5. We’re hired to take care of the children in terms of bathing, diapering, and personal care, but also their education. We’re tutoring, teaching, taking them to classes, making sure they’re on track developmentally.
[Racism toward nannies is] a touchy issue, but we need to talk about it. The nanny industry itself came from slavery–Black women were in the home taking care of the kids. It’s a lot different now. The agency world is mostly run by White women, and that’s one of the reasons I started my own agency. Most of the Black nannies that I know personally have done well with agencies, and I personally have never had an issue. I do know of a couple of instances where nannies who were extremely qualified were not accepted by agencies and never told why. I think you put two and two together and you know why.
On the flip side, we need to make sure that we represent ourselves as professionals. If you’re going to be a nanny, you need to understand that it is a career. You need a résumé, references, experience; you need to hold up your end of the bargain too.
I’m really careful about what expectations my clients have. One time, a dad said he wanted a White nanny on his application. I don’t know if he knew I was Black. Some people just want housekeepers–somebody to do all the dirty work. And that’s just not what we do. We are an extension of the family, and it just has to be the right fit.
Most of my charges have been White. I have worked for a few Black families and of course, everybody thinks they’re my own kids. Working in White households, I only had one woman that was unwelcoming. She asked me to bring my own water instead of helping myself to the family’s. It was crazy. But that lasted about two or three weeks. I said, eh, I can’t. Because I can feel the racial tension.
I was in Greenville last summer working for a wonderful family. That opened my eyes to more racism, being in a more Southern state. The stares that I got in the neighborhood while walking the dog… I’m like, I belong there too. I remember a little girl told me she didn’t like Black people but she did like me.
It makes me wonder what conversations she hears at home. Then, I was picking up a child from middle school… We’re driving to hockey, and [we pass Black children playing basketball. He says, Oh, those are “hood” kids. I’m like, are you kidding me? Somewhere in his mind, he thinks that Black kids are hood kids. Who’s telling you this? Where’s this coming from? I had to gently educate him and say, as a Black woman hired to take care of you, why would you say that in front of me?
Kids are innocent. They may not have been taught about the beauty of race and how we’re all the same inside, despite our color. To talk to kids about racism, I say, if you have a crayon box and you take out the black and the brown, would anybody buy that box with missing colors? No, because it’s not complete. We need all colors to be able to make the box whole. Everything in this box is important.
One of the toughest jobs I’ve had was for a family who looked at me like I was ‘the help.’ I got groceries, I cooked all the meals, I ran the errands… I became the house manager, the housekeeper, and the nanny. Taking the job was questionable–after the interview, the mom said, “Don’t bring up Obama in front of my husband.” I didn’t have an issue with their political views. I try to keep that personal. But then I heard other comments about people of color, like, “I hate Mexicans because they’re lazy.” Or, “If White people had a holiday like Kwanzaa, you guys would be upset.”
As a woman of color, I don’t like bigotry and hatred in any form. Do I say something or not say something? Little by little, I was paying for not stepping up. The mom even asked me to explain to her child why he shouldn’t be playing ‘slaves and slave masters.’ We should all be able to explain why that’s not okay. Still, they would tell me that I was like family to them. If that were true, they’d make a better effort to get to know who I am as a Black woman and to treat people of color better.
My current boss sat down with me after the incident with George Floyd. She said, “I want you to know I’m aware of what’s going on. I am paying attention. I can only imagine how it feels.” We had a discussion about how it impacted my life, and I gave her advice so she could talk to her girls about it. The youngest one had told her, “Because I love Miss Megan, I treat her like a White person, not a Black person.”
To know that they trust me with their most precious gift [is an honor].
I helped her mom explain that we should treat everyone equally and treat them with love, regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, or anything else. We went through the history of racism in America to help the girls understand. I’m grateful that she felt comfortable coming to me. That was a big weight lifted off my shoulders.
The most rewarding part of being a nanny is knowing that I make a difference. I add to your family. Your kids are better with me around. I make you comfortable not being there. It brings me joy when parents could go out of town because they know that the kids are okay and they’re safe. To know that they trust me with their most precious gift is an honor.
Founder of Babymoon Concierge
I read something years ago: if you would do something for free, then that’s the career you should have. And that’s why I’m a nanny. I love helping families and new parents. Home economics is not taught in school anymore. Some parents have never held a baby, never cooked, never cleaned, and it’s very rewarding to be able to help. I’ll go to their home and show them how to take care of the baby before they even have him or her. How to change diapers, how to wash a newborn… I don’t want my clients to be scared. These are strong little people.
Sometimes, for Black nannies, a new family might see our picture and not even want us in their house. I’ve gotten out of my car and I see the stares from people driving down the street. But they don’t know what kind of person I am, what personality I have, where I’ve worked, what my likes and dislikes are, that I’m highly educated… they just see color. And unfortunately, it’s their loss. Parents, don’t look at my skin color, look at me as a person. Don’t have any fear–trust us. We are here to help.
Unfortunately, a lot of nannies do not speak up for themselves when they encounter racism. I think they fear that their employers might blackball them. But this is my business. I own my own agency. I can speak up for myself. Nannies do have power and that’s one of the things they don’t realize. There is a forum that a lot of nannies are on, and a lot of them complain about their employers. I think, why don’t you say something? Why do you let them treat you like that? I know it takes time to believe in yourself. It took a while, for me. But now, I speak up for myself and I have confidence. I know what I can do and what I can’t. That confidence is something that grows in time.
Elite Newborn Care Specialist and Founder of Harmony Baby Concierge
When I’m interviewing a family, there is a certain feeling I can get. We are doing interviews over Zoom, and I can see their body language. I have my picture on my CV and on my website, so when I send a family something they see exactly who they’re getting.
However, as a newborn care specialist, I arrive at a family’s home at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., and I leave when it’s still dark. In these very exclusive neighborhoods, there are not a lot of people who look like me. I’m afraid sometimes that someone will stop me and say, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” I’m careful and aware of my surroundings, especially at night. I had that same sense of awareness when I went out with my charges during the daytime as a nanny. Someone once came up to me while I was in a store and said, “How do you know her? What’s your relationship?” I’ve had people stare at me and when I have a White child in my lap or in a stroller.
Nannies are very involved emotionally with these children and so connected to them. I’ve always taken pictures of my charges to send to their parents. My last charge, I have her entire life documented in pictures. I’ve had that conversation with myself in my head: if I ever do get stopped, how would I prove that this child is okay? I could whip out my phone and I have her entire life, pictures of both of us together from the time she was 3 days old and left when she was almost 2 years old.
I love babies. They are fascinating to me. I love watching them become individuals and loving on them. I also love working with parents, especially new parents. They don’t know yet that they have the power to shape this little person, and I teach them by example. Sometimes parents just need a lot of encouragement. People forget that this new mom and dad might not be confident and they need support too. When I leave a job and the parents are more comfortable and confident, I’ve accomplished my goal.
Founder of Ask the Nanny
I’ve been a professional nanny across the U.S. for years–I’ve also owned and operated daycares. When I lived in D.C., I spoke on the phone with a potential employer. When I got to the door for an in-person interview] the woman looked at me and said, can I help you? She looks outside the door, looks around the corner. Finally, she invites me in.
We had a three-hour interview, and I gave it 100 percent. I prided myself on being professional. Afterward, as I walked out, she asked when I could start. I said, “I’m interviewing with other families. I’ll let you know.” I didn’t feel like she would respect me because of some of the things she said during the interview. “We have a guest house out in the back. We would let you stay, but we are doing some renovations on it.” That was her excuse to let me know that I’m not going to be living on her property.
I went to another interview with a Black family. They said, “Don’t think that just because you’re ‘our kind’ that you’ll get special treatment. We have a nice house here and I want you to treat our house better than you treat your own.” I wouldn’t have a career if I didn’t treat other people’s homes better than I treat my own.
While living in Arkansas, I encountered racism or discrimination in pricing. One of my friends and I were going for the same job. The family told her that they pay $18 an hour. Then they told me $15 an hour. I asked the mom and she said, “I guess we can start you out at $17.50.” She didn’t realize that nannies talk to each other. We say, “have you talked with this person? Yeah, she’s crazy, don’t go there.” We all warn each other: you don’t want that job.
In Dallas, I’ve only ever had problems with one family. They were high-profile and had a high net worth. All of their payments to me were late. The dad would apologize and say it slipped his mind, but then the next paycheck was late too. When I started, they gave a three-page document about the job duties and rules, and I had done everything that they asked.
The next time, I asked for payment upfront, and they refused. That’s when I said, “I have been professional. I go above and beyond. I’m on time, I stay late, yet you pay me late, and you refuse to pay my late fees. I can take this job or leave it. I’ll stay and watch the baby if you pay me up front.” I had my coat on and my bag in hand. Right on cue, the baby started screaming. The mom looked at me with her mouth wide open. But she paid me. And they asked me to come back. I am glad I pushed the situation to the limit. I won’t work somewhere that I’m not respected.
Founder of No Other Nanny and Celebrate Nanny Life
The beauty in being a placement service provider is I get to decide who I want to work with. Usually, when I’m hired to help a family find somebody, I know that they are accepting because I am a Black business owner. Aside from just helping the families find nannies, we are also trying to educate and advocate. I ask parents to describe their ideal caregiver. They’ll say somebody safe, smart, passionate… and I help them see that their ideal caregiver doesn’t have a specific aesthetic or color.
To combat racism and discrimination in the industry, agencies, nannies, and organizations have to want to come together to resolve the issue. We have to dig deeper. Pull back layers. There are multiple systems in place, but we can restructure those systems and recognize how powerful we really are. Education and advocacy are crucial. We need to educate ourselves to pass that info on to other nannies who may not be aware of the legal rights they have.
A family I worked for in San Antonio moved to a new neighborhood. I would go on a walk with the children every single day. One day, I saw a friend driving by and she stopped to chat. Before I know it, one police officer pulls up, then two, then four. I’m a nanny doing my job, doing nothing wrong, and getting stopped for being Black. I told the family, and they stood behind me and made sure that I felt seen. They asked me how I wanted to handle it, and they called the police station and demanded an apology. It was different after that, and I had officers greeting me instead of confronting me. I continued to work with them for another three years.
Nannies, you have a right to be where you are. No one should make you feel like you don’t belong. When you are treated in a way that is wrong, speak up, and you’ll see the results of using your voice.
I really do love working with children. The experience I have with them is almost revisiting childhood. It’s a privilege to see the world through a child’s eyes. As adults, we’re bombarded with to-dos and responsibilities. You’re forced to find innocence when working with children. There’s also the aspect of providing customized childcare. I like to control my schedule and routine. We do have a hand in raising the future. If you see something you don’t like in society, you can change that in the kids you work with. It takes a special breed to dedicate your life. The challenges keep you on your toes.
A version of this story appeared in the August issue of D Magazine with the headline, “We Are Not the Help.”