Sunday, December 31, 2006

pursuit of happine$$

The NY Times has a story about how many middle to upper-class blacks are having trouble finding nannies:

As more blacks move up the economic ladder, one fixture — some would say necessity — of the upper-middle-class income bracket often eludes them. Like hailing a cab in Midtown Manhattan, searching for a nanny can be an exasperating, humiliating exercise for many blacks, the kind of ordeal that makes them wonder aloud what year it is.

“We’ve attained whatever level society says is successful, we’re included at work, but when we need the support for our children and we can afford it, why do we get treated this way?” asked Tanisha Jackson, an African-American mother of three in a Washington suburb, who searched on and off for five years before hiring a nanny. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Numerous black parents successfully employ nannies, and many sitters say they pay no regard to race. But interviews with dozens of nannies and agencies that employ them in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Houston turned up many nannies — often of African-American or Caribbean descent themselves — who avoid working for families of those backgrounds. Their reasons included accusations of low pay and extra work, fears that employers would look down at them, and suspicion that any neighborhood inhabited by blacks had to be unsafe.

The result is that many black parents do not have the same child care options as their colleagues and neighbors. They must settle for illegal immigrants or non-English speakers instead of more experienced or credentialed nannies, rely on day care or scale back their professional aspirations to spend more time at home.

. . .

The problem may be as much about class as race, said Kimberly McClain DaCosta, a Harvard sociologist who is researching how blacks care for family members. For nannies, working for an employer of the same background or skin color “highlights their lower economic status,” she said, but “the fact that their employers are black just makes that more intense.”

Given that Ms. DaCosta employs a nanny herself, I found her statement troubling for her seeming lack of self-awareness. I also noticed that reporter Jodi Kantor nearly managed to avoid any discussion of class issues at all.

Maybe Ms. DaCosta was quoted out of context, or perhaps the reporter cherry-picked the juiciest snippet out of an otherwise sensible conversation. But I’m led to believe that Ms. DaCosta recognizes the inequality inherent in her personal situation, and feels it is regrettable, but also feels that unfortunately there’s not much to be done about it. So she analyzes the situation dispassionately while peeking out the window to see whether the “help” walking up the steps is suitable.

Not infrequently I read something in the Times to remind me why the ads in the print version are for Saks Fifth Avenue and Ermenegildo Zegna. The reason being that many of the Times’ readers and reporters inhabit the world of $25,000/year competitive pre-school, summers at the Hamptons, and year-end bonuses larger than many people’s annual salaries. This was brought home again by this somewhat warped, seriously insulated article. The existence of a modern-day servant class to provide the wealthy with low-cost child-care, housekeeping, yardwork, food services, etc. is apparently not worthy of comment in the rarified air in which the Times reports. The important thing is that all upper-middle class Americans, regardless of race or national origin, have the nannies that they have rightfully earned!

I remember watching an early episode of Weeds on Showtime with Mary Louise Parker as a newly-widowed mother struggling to make ends meet for her family in the suburbs somewhere. Things got so bad that she had trouble scraping together enough money to pay the maid. Oh, the humanity!

Um, for starters, you could, like, not employ a maid and clean the house yourself. Or have the kids do it—a little housework won’t break a child’s will to live. If you want to save some money, I mean. Just a suggestion.

I don’t know how the Times maintains its reputation as a left-wing rag with stories like this.

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