When someone needs help, it’s tempting to step in and offer a helping hand. But if you’re helping them for your own benefit, how are you really helping them? A sharp commentary on ‘white saviors’, Kiley Reid takes a contemporary look at the complicated relationship between a white upper class woman and her part-time black babysitter in her winning debut novel, Such a Fun Age.
By all appearances, Alix leads a charmed life. As a pretty white girl whose family became nouveau-riche yet maintained their trashy roots, she turns her ability of writing letters and asking for anything into a legendary career, catapulting her into the world of an online influencer. On the other end, her babysitter Emira Tucker is aimless, broke, and trying to figure out why her life doesn’t match society’s standards. Their relationship undergoes an awakening after a horrifying late-night incident involving Emira and her white charge at an upper class supermarket, highlighting how much Emira doesn’t have her life together – and latest prejudices that still exist.
In Alix’s eyes, she does everything she can to remain ‘color blind’, after an incident that tainted her high school experience. She tries to appear as if she isn’t elitist – from befriending her babysitter to having a black best friend, and pretending to prepare meals when all she really wants to do is order them online. After the supermarket occurrence, Alix swoops in to overcompensate for the bad experience, even meddling in Emira’s life so she can be the one her babysitter has to turn to.
This isn’t to say being a white savior is a bad thing; it’s more a question of whether you’re manipulating the person you’re saving for your own advantage. If you see someone who seems clueless about their life, it doesn’t mean you get to maneuver how they live to suit your image of a perfect world. In Alix’s case, she feels she’s doing the right thing for Emira because she ‘knows’ better. And yet, in the end, she forces a situation that would be for her own benefit and not Emira’s.
On the other hand, Emira isn’t just an innocent bystander either. She willingly goes along with Alix’s whims, keeping up the idea that she doesn’t know what she wants out of life, letting others take control of her life so she doesn’t have to think about it. She doesn’t speak up against Alix when something displeases her but that could stem from not wanting to upset the person who holds her main income in their hands. That’s all part of being in your mid-twenties though, right?
Such a Fun Age speaks to the truth underscoring complex dynamics between minorities and so-called white saviors, and first-time author Reid handles such a sticky subject in a way that makes it easy to digest and understand the situation, from both angles. The inside look into a relationship between someone of privilege and their babysitter is fascinating, and the simplicity of the story belies the deeper issue that runs beneath. Despite what we may feel are the best intentions, ‘saving’ someone from their own life may not always be the best for them because really, who’s going to save you from yourself?