Take a deep breath everyone– time to talk about something many people find uncomfortable: Racism. But talk about it we must, because racism gets in the way of our relationships with each other.
3 Sources of “Racism Interference”
Racism interference can come from three directions, any of which can influence your match with an Au Pair.
- The au pair’s racism leads her to reject or prefer your family, your children, you as a host parent, and/or your community.
- Your own racism leads you to reject or prefer a particular au pair, au pairs from certain countries, or au pairs with certain cultural values.
- Your concerns about racism (e.g., its effect on your children, or the patterns of behavior in your community, worries that your au pair will be racist) lead you to reject or prefer certain specific au pairs or candidates from particular cultures.
If you agree that all of us are (“still”) influenced by racism, even though the intensity and type of influence may have changed over the years, you recognize that racism is possibly at work when you and an au pair candidate consider a potential match.
I’d like us to consider all three ways that racism can influence our matches… but in this post I want to focus on
#1: Racism as expressed by potential au pairs.
I’m starting here not to blame au pairs first, but because I got an email from a host parent with a request that we talk about her experience.
This parent writes:
I have been a host mom for about five years, and it still amazes me how difficult my screening process can become when selecting an Aupair. In the beginning, the selection process seems to go extraordinary well, until I mention to the probable Aupair about our race. (My family is African American.)
Too often, I don’t get another response, until I call or email the Aupair days later to ask how are things. The usual response is “I am sorry, I already matched with a family”. But I know this isn’t always true, because the agency had indicated that the Aupair is still available.
So far, the Aupairs that have seemed to lose interest once they know we are black have been from Germany, or France, and Switzerland. I usually request Aupairs from these specific countries because, they tend to be very strong drivers, and becuase both of my boys understand German and French and I’d like to reinforce their language skills.
Earlier, we had a problem with an Aupair who knew of my ethnicity when she matched. Then, once she arrived in our home, she decided she could not take care of the children because of our ethnicity.
Two of our Aupairs have been black women from South Africa. We have also had 2 white European Aupairs. The first European Aupair finished her year with us. However, she explained to me that it was often difficult for her, since she was uncomfortable taking my youngest child to the park because of the stares and glares she would receive from other white parents. (See #3 above).
The second aupair, after being in our home for only a week, stated she wanted “American culture” and not black culture. Ironically, she says black culture, even though our children are the only black children in their entire school. Both my Husband and I were born in America and raised in predominately white neighborhoods, so it’s not like she’d only experience “black” culture and not “american” culture (as though these were different?).
I have determined by deduction that unfortunately, in today’s society, it is acceptable for a black Aupair to push a stroller with a white child, but it is not acceptable for a white Aupair to be a caregiver or an Aupair to black children.
I hope I don’t sound bitter or upset, but I do feel a little disenchanted with the idea of “cultural exchange”. I want to be able to get the full advantage of the benefits of au pairs from other countries (even countries with certain languages) — but now I’m wondering whether this is less possible for some families than for others.
I realize that I could just interview aupairs who look like me or seem to be my same race, because they (the Aupairs) would presumably be comfortable living with us.
But what happened to the idea of “cultural exchange”?
Dear HostMomOfColor —
I’m not surprised that you’ve experienced this dynamic, but I am sad about it. Even when we recognize that these young women may not have had educations and life experiences that would teach them to be less racist or to work to resist the influence of racism on their own behavior, it still hurts. What I’ve learned as a white woman who has taught undergraduates about race, class, gender & orientation differences/dynamics, is that you can explain racism to people, but they have to want to unlearn racism themselves. And, doing this is hard work. It is unpredictable, and it may not be what they are up for.
All that said, there are some things I wish for:
I’d like au pair agencies to address racism head on.
- I’d like to see Agencies put something in their materials about how American families can be so diverse (Two Moms! Two Dads! Christians&Pagans! Bio&Adopted! BiRacial/Bicultural! Typical learners & Special needs! And more!). And, all of these are “American” culture!
- I’d like to see au pair Orientation have a session on how to handle “difference” that overlaps with and goes beyond “culture”.
- I’d like LCCs to have monthly cluster meetings where racism and diversity discussed and when inclusive behaviors are taught (maybe even by professionals).
- I’d like learning to live and work in diverse, inclusive situations to be an explicit focus and goal of being an au pair and having an au pair.
- I’d like Agencies to ask potential au pairs to discuss in their applications how they would manage being in a “diverse” (not just different) environment.
- Maybe au pair Agencies could even include a check-off list of what the au pair feels comfortable with, so that families with different profiles don’t waste their time? How about a list where you can indicate: I am comfortable being placed with a family that is non-white, non-English-speaking-at-home, includes a special needs child, is headed by a single parent, and so on. [note 10/3: From the comments, it looks like Cultural Care already does this. Can anyone confirm for me, or fill in about other agencies?]
Host parents, what thoughts do you have for this mom?
What ideas do you have for the au pair ‘system’ for dealing with racism just from this one direction, from au pairs themselves?