That Asian mom is not the nanny. Why do so many people assume she is?


If you’ve been on the Internet at all today, you’ve probably already seen this video.

A white professor became the star of a viral video when his two young children wandered into the room while he was being interviewed by the BBC about relations between North and South Korea. An Asian woman dashed in and dragged the kids away before crawling back to close the door behind him.

It’s charming and relatable. Kids don’t care about your Skype interview or the carefully arranged tableau of books and maps behind you. Anyone who’s ever been around a young child can relate.

The man in the video is Robert E. Kelly, an associate professor of international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea. The woman in the video is his wife, Jung-a Kim, who is Korean.


People on Twitter and Facebook immediately began to criticize the video because the “nanny” looked scared or afraid for her job. A article that has since been updated called her the “frenzied nanny.” A British tabloid referred to her as the “horrified nanny.”

Writer Roxane Gay picked up on the assumption. Her followers protested: The woman in the video had to be hired help, because she seemed “panicked,” “terrified” and even “emotionally abused.”


Why did so many people immediately assume she was the nanny?

“People fell back on stereotypes,” said Phil Yu, a blogger at Angry Asian Man.

He said he’d first seen the video when his wife sent it to him. He tweeted about it -- “This is the single best video in the history of white men talking about Korea” -- and said he started getting responses to the effect of, “Did you notice how many people assume that woman is the nanny?”

“That hadn’t occurred to me,” he said. “It was so clearly the terrified parents.”

“There are stereotypes of Asian women as servile, as passive, as fulfilling some kind of service role,” he continued. “People were quick to make that assumption.”

And Asian moms aren’t alone in being the victims of such assumptions.

Sage Steele, the host of “NBA Countdown,” wrote for People about her experiences as a biracial mother, saying she was “devastated” when two middle-aged women approached her and asked whether she was her infant’s nanny.

On the parenting blog Scary Mommy, a Mexican American mother wrote about how she felt after being asked at the playground with her daughter, “How long have you worked for the family?”

A few years ago, Nicole Blades wrote a piece for the now-defunct site xoJane an article titled, “Nope! I’m not the nanny, just a black mom thanks.” She encouraged readers to tweet about their own mixed-race families using the hashtag #notthenanny.

Today, people used the hashtag again to refer to the BBC video.

On Twitter — presumably before he logged off for the night — Kelly asked the BBC host whether this video was the sort of thing that “goes ‘viral’ and gets weird.”


Seems safe to say the answer is yes.

Find me on Twitter @jessica_roy


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