The Unsettling Sight of Black Nannies

Walking down the streets as of late, I cannot help but notice the increase in the number of Black women I see pushing the strollers of white children. There had always been a few familiar faces in the area, but now I hardly recognize any of them. Coming from every direction imaginable, they line the streets of my neighborhood like dutiful soldiers. It is quite a sight to see believe me. Women whose faces look like my very own displaying the same nurturing and caring affection as my mother had once did when I was child, but to their white charges. I will admit that it is hard to control the intense feelings that come upon me at the sight of these women. I become angry, frustrated and then confused.

When you grow up learning the plight of the Black female domestic worker in these here United States of America, part of you, or at least me, cannot help but remember the images of the happy, smiling, mammies masquerading the truth of what life was actually like for the working Black female servant. Just imagine fourteen to sixteen hour-long days for little pay for a family that was never conceived from your own womb. There you are, bound helplessly to a patriarchal economic system that demands you be treated less than a human being while at the same time demanding your upmost respect and unyielding nurturing instincts for their very own.

My feelings of anger, frustration and confusion may not be justified, for I know everyone must do what they can to earn a living, but reviving the destitute times and imagery of the nineteenth century in twenty-first century America (not like it ever stopped) is quite heart-wrenching. I know that the opportunities for success differ widely among all people and to not acknowledge the systemic operations of racial inequality would be naïve and foolish, but at what point do we say enough is enough?

As Beverly Guy-Sheftall remarked in an interview for the Atlanta JournalConstitution:

It’s a subservient relationship whether the treatment is humane and includes material support or not. We’re talking about the legacy of slavery and it has to be seen in the context of the Jim Crow South in which black women had no rights. They didn’t get to decide what their work would be, their hours, wages. They were on call on holidays and weekends. They were often vulnerable to sexual exploitation of the white men in the household…

And we have to remember the children of these domestics and the hurt on the part of those children who didn’t have their mothers around in ways they wanted or needed because their mothers were taking care of other people’s kids.

There’s a long narrative of black women through the ages saying, ‘I don’t want my daughter doing this work.’ So those women suffered and sacrificed so their daughters could have options [added emphasis].

It may appear somewhat elitist of one who has been afforded the chance to attend college to ask someone who has not turn down a job because of the type of work it entails, but I do so knowing that we as Black women deserve to have a life that our ancestors, foremothers, and mothers have already given theirs countless times over.

Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at:

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