As a child, my maternal grandmother lived in a large three story home complete with hanging chandeliers and maid quarters. I asked my mother what her mother did for work she started explaining using words such as domesticate, household, cleaning and I blurted out “oh maid”. Which was explained to me that we don’t use the word “maid”. She was trying to teach me about the power of words. Answering my question meant a lot to her when I asked what her job was.
Because of how I talk, straight no chaser, when I asked my mother as a child what she did at work, she chose her words carefully and said, “I’m a butcher they don’t call me that at work but that’s what I do”. She further explained that she wasn’t paid the same as the white men that worked the same job. She came home in a white, blood-stained coat every night from cutting meat. Her hands smelled of bleach and her knuckles were beginning to show signs of arthritis.
After the incident that changed everything in my life. Once a month on her day off she would dress herself in her prettiest dress, put me in a dress, ribbons in my hair and my shiny Mary Jane’s would travel downtown Philadelphia to a restaurant to have brunch. We would be the only Black people in the restaurant and the stares were too much for me and I remember telling my mother. I didn’t like it and the people staring at us made me feel afraid. My mother just said, they are only starring because you are so beautiful. We got ice cream with cherries on top and my mother tasted my treat and smiled. She wasn’t a smiler because she hated the gap in her front teeth. So, this was her defiance and her contribution to the movement. She and a 5-year-old waging war with smiles and ice cream.
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