Let me start by saying that Black Lives have always mattered over here and for me and my people. This blog was created to center the voices and stories of Women of Color and Black women in particular. This current moment in the movement for Black lives is critical and history making. I’m very much committed to doing the continued work to educate myself and do the reading both in critical contexts and through the work of authors like Kiley Reid and will be sharing what I encounter along the way. I hope you find Literary Black Girl to be a place that helps you do so as well.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This was a super quick read for me; it pulled me in, and one afternoon, I found myself unable to put the book down until I had reached the last page. I was drawn to the story of a young Black woman about my age who was a nanny for a white, upper middle class family. I have been that woman. I nannied and babysat as my primary form of income for just under a year during my first year of post-grad. I lived in Utah at the time. Almost all the listings were for white, Mormon families with 3-5 kids that lived on culdesacs in newly developed neighborhoods in the suburbs that rarely wanted to pay nearly enough for the labor that they requested. No one seemed to care or give a thought about what it would mean for a Black woman to come into these children’s homes and assume a position of authority in a culture where Black people were less than 5% of the state population and largely invisible from the actual communities that these children grew up in.
That being said, even I was unprepared for the depths of Alix’s near obsession with her nanny, Emira Tucker. She went to such lengths to attempt to get to know her and be involved in her life. The invitations for drinks after work are something that are familiar to me too, and I felt the same sense of discomfort that Emira did. Another critical point of the book was Emira’s ability to simply mind her own business. Alix was initially drawn to her because she knew nothing about her past in New York and seemed disinterested in digging into that at all. In many of my experiences, something about a Black woman who doesn’t care to know all the intimate details of your life and keeps those of her own life to herself is disconcerting to a lot of white people.
This book moves through the tests and trials of dating and relationships, developing a career, and post-graduate crisis all while it looks deeply at race in interpersonal and intimate relationships and employment with such relatable ease. It also sparked complex dialogues between my peers and I that were reading the book simultaneously. The book problematizes the idea of caretaking as illegitimate or shameful work, especially for college educated Black women. Kelley, Emira’s boyfriend for much of the book (don’t worry, I’ll try not to spoil too much) says something along the lines of “The only person who has a problem with you being a nanny is you” to Emira. That really sat with me and raised memories of my own sense of discomfort with nannying while recognizing that it was the only work that was readily available to me at the time. My own paternal grandmother had raised white children in her younger years as well because it was work that was readily available to her then too. Something about me going as far as I had at the time and accomplishing things that she couldn’t have even dreamed for me only to end up taking care of white children just like she had made me uneasy because I realized that accomplishments and education do not guarantee your immediate “success.” But really, what’s wrong with being a nanny? For me, it’s when you add the history that surrounds Black women’s labor in this country, that domestic work becomes much more fraught. It seems that you can always count on white people of a certain kind of means to trust Black and Brown women to take care of their children. I walked into non-domestic job interview after job interview and my Blackness often worked against me. I was employed within two days after making a Care.com profile.
I also had a conversation with a friend about the book’s conclusion. She said that she wished Emira’s story had led to her having a higher earning potential. [Spoiler Alert] Reid writes at the start of chapter twenty eight, “It would be unfair to say that Emira Tucker stopped babysitting.” Emira ultimately spends the rest of her career as an assistant to the regional director of the US Census Bureau, and she was 32 when she received a yearly salary of $52K. I pushed back on my friend, asking why it is that Black women have to be CEOs making six figures a year to be considered “successful” or “be doing enough”? Emira chose the job she did because it made her happy and she liked the work. It gave her the stability that she needed. Can we not, as Black women, just want to be and work a job that we enjoy whether it pays us big figures or not?
Kiley Reid has a deft hand at writing the stories of young Black women like myself. I read myself all throughout these pages, and yet she still kept me on the hook with plot twists and surprises along the way. It’s an excellent read for summer, and I’d especially recommend it for recent college graduates who need help remembering that they’re not alone in this confusing time.
Have you read Such a Fun Age? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!