If you’ve spent any time at all on the Internet today, you’ve probably seen the man being interviewed on BBC about important matters related to the geopolitics of South and North Korea before his two kids bust in, making them all an instant meme, gif, and viral sensation. His name is Robert E. Kelly and he is an American Ph.D. who is a political science professor at Pusan National University. In the off case you live under a rock, here it is:
This. Is. Glorious. Seriously. Everything about these 55 seconds are comedic perfection — the young girls banana yellow sweater, her unselfconscious dancing, the curious wheeling baby, the books tossing on the floor, the father’s grimace and tightening lips as he is powerless to stop what is unfolding on live television, his repeated apologies, his brain visibly churning, willing his children to just go away, for all that is good and holy in the world, just go away.
And then she appears, in a frenetic blur of sliding socks on hardwood flooring, the woman who takes care of business. In a flash, this gal grabs two children by the arms, pulling them out of the room, out of the camera’s eye, their wails and resistance be damned. Then, when you think the moment has passed, she leaps back into view, reaching with everything she’s got, to close the door, thrusting herself forward on her knees. The same door dad should have probably thought to close before he switched on his Skype.
Who is she? The nanny? A babysitter? His wife?
Yep, turns out, the gal is wife and mom, not the nanny, not the hired help, not someone who can be fired for her momentary lapse in attention that led to this Internet gold.
What’s interesting to me, in watching the commentary unfold over the course of the day today, are the numerous and quick assumptions that the woman must be the nanny. We saw this false assumption play out all over the media — everyplace from Time magazine to friends’ comments on Facebook. There seems to be an innate intellectual obstacle from pairing the white man and the Asian woman as co-parents. A reflexive disconnect, if you will.
Many might think the mistake a harmless one, but not my friend Marie. “That shit happens to me all the time,” she told me today. Marie, you see, is mother to an infant son, and, like the gal in the video, often mistaken as her son’s nanny instead of his mother. I have read her Facebook status updates cataloging these type of incidents throughout her son’s first year of life. They are brutal.
Marie is Native American and her son is fair skinned with bright blue eyes. Her long dark hair, beautiful brown eyes, and light brown complexion don’t, somehow, make sense to folks when they see her with her whiter than white baby. They assume she is the nanny and tell her so, with alarming frequency.
I thought of Marie instantly this morning after first seeing folks labeling the woman in the video as a nanny, then seeing it confirmed that she was, in fact, the mom. Did Marie, too, see this unfold? What were her thoughts? “I think it’s strange that in this day and age people are still subconsciously not accepting of interracial marriage. They immediately think it must be an employee and not a wife. I want to punch them in the face.” Mind you, Marie followed up that last statement with four laugh-crying emojis.
“I mean, I don’t really want to punch them. But it stings. I try to brush it off. People will usually start by complimenting my baby who is obviously absolutely precious and well-behaved and basically perfect. And then they will almost feel sorry for him. Like this poor child is being left with the nanny.” Marie has heard, “I think it’s amazing that you are working on a Sunday!,” from well intentioned folks more times than she would care to count.
So how is one to react to that? Marie is still figuring that out, “I never want to make people feel weird, but it’s awkward to correct them, so sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.”
What is clear to me, watching Marie’s stories unfold on Facebook over the past year on top of the litany of comments about today’s video hero being a nanny instead of a mom, is that whether people realize it or not, we, as a culture, are not as evolved as we might think we are. And, for those personally involved, for those moms and dads who folks assume are paid employees, it can hurt.