What my parents wanted was a mammy

By Deborah K. Friedell


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Salon Staff
September 6, 2000 11:41PM (UTC)

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I find the story quite disturbing. My mother also hired a very young woman, Mary, to help with our family. We loved her. Mary was with us for about eight years before she got married. When she got married, my father "gave her away" and both my parents were introduced as her parents. Mary had three children of her own and as a teenager I would go pick them up for trips to the park or ice cream. Mary's children are all now in high school. Our families continue to have a close relationship. I cannot understand how there could not be a stronger bond between the author and Jamine. To me it is truly sad.

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-- Yvette Ybarra

What is it with young white women and nannies? Or young white women and housekeepers? You talk about them as if you value them, respect them and feel their pain. You are terribly guilty about having them in your life. They are good and strong and honorable. But as soon as you grow up and leave the nest they become some kind of enigma that can only be purged through the creative writing process. Call the woman if you care! Send her a gift. And for God's sake, pick out a Christmas card: It's not that hard! Pretty pictures, heartfelt verses, even a "Happy Holiday" will do. If you learn how to do these things now, when you graduate from Yale and have a baby and nanny of your own, you will be prepared to teach your child a thing or two about the class system.

-- Melissa Cirone

I am not sure if the writer knows exactly why her parents hired Jamine. It appears as if they were just like other upper-class white Americans. You know the ones: The ones who feel as if they need to hire a black, seemingly unambitious, unappealing female figure whose only purpose in life is to nurture, because apparently they just know that "education wasn't really for people like her." They are the ones who trust the cooking of their meals, the bathing of their children and the detailing of their home to black folk but would not be caught dead associating with them on any other level.

Don't misunderstand. It's not wrong to have a nanny (the slimmer, more educated, probably attractive version of a mammy). It's not wrong to help people out with their legal cases. And it's not wrong to sometimes ignore the people who have taken care of you and have nurtured you, either. You sometimes are mean to the people you love the most. However, it is wrong to label a caring woman a mammy.

-- Karen Fray


Salon Staff

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