Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Real Friends Don't Call Friends "The Maid"

Miss Millie: You kids are so clean. You wanna come work for me? Be my maid?
Sophia: Hell no.

—from The Color Purple

These lines, and Sophia’s subsequent beat down at the hands of a mob of white men who didn’t take too kindly to a black woman expressing, under no uncertain terms, that she had higher ambitions for her children other than for them to scrub floors for the rest of their lives, came to mind yesterday when I read THIS MADNESS over at Dr. Wendy Walsh, a white mom of a biracial daughter, questioned whether our “historical trappings” over the use of slurs have “loosened”—whether we’re “so far past the tragedies and injustices of the past” that this new generation can make light of” the “N” word and other insults historically reserved for people of color without assigning any meaning to them. The mom’s query came after her daughter, who presumably looks black (or at least something other than white), revealed that she calls her best friend, who is white, “blonde”—as in “dumb blonde”—and the best friend calls the biracial girl “maid”—as in, “back in the days of slavery, you would have been my maid.”

This whole expanded definition of the "blonde and maid" friendship didn't soothe me a whole lot. But it did get me thinking about how terms of endearment are sometimes slurs that, spoken in the privacy of an intimacy, imply, "This is our special word. Our joke. This separates us from the world and bonds us together."

The mom goes on to suggest that the “affectionate” nickname her daughter’s white friend has assigned to her is not much different from the use of the “N” word by “many African-Americans… within their racial circle,” or the “loving, intimate way” an old boyfriend proudly called her his “N.” “I accepted it with love,” she writes.


I. Can’t.

But I will.

Um, you can do all the convenient self-reflection/analytical thinking/tap-dancing you want to, but the bottom line is this: Where I come from, calling a black child a “maid” would earn you a Ms. Sophia-styled cuss out if you’re lucky, a sound Shaniqua-esque ass whooping if you say it to the wrong one. Best believe, Mari and Lila would surely know better than to let any child, much less a white one, refer to them as servants. For sure, I asked my 10-year-old, Mari, what would be her reaction if a friend called her “maid” for fun, and she said, simply, “I would think it was kinda racist and I’d ask her not to say it again.”

Now, if a 10-year-old gets this, why all the questions from the “maid’s” mother? Venture a guess, but I’m thinking she doesn’t get it because she’s never known—and never will know—what it truly feels like to be called the “N” word and know that it was hurled at you from a person with a hardened heart and a palpable explosion of hate toward people with brown skin. She has no clue how it feels to be followed around the drug store by store workers who think she’s about to steal something—just because her skin is brown. She hasn’t a clue what it feels like to feel virtual steam rise from the top of your head when you get sat next to the bathroom at the restaurant and then get ignored for half an hour because no one wants to serve you—just because your skin is brown. And clearly, she’s never been out with her baby at the park, only to have a fellow white mom press a phone number in her hand with instructions to call her if she’s looking for a new nanny job—the white mom’s assumption that she’s on the playground strictly to watch over and wipe the asses of other peoples’ children and not your own.

But her daughter will know firsthand how hurtful that hate and those assumptions are. Because at some point, someone is going to get a gander of her brown skin and call her out of her name—and it won’t be done “with love and affection.” It’ll be done because the name-caller will think the color of her skin makes her inferior, and he’ll want her to feel inferior, too. And when (not if, but when) that happens, it won’t be all giggles and good times for her or her child.

Instead of simply pontificating on whether it’s okay for her daughter to be called “maid,” my sincere hope is this mother sat her daughter down—and her little friend, too—and explained to both of them the “you should know better” of this situation—that it’s NEVER a good idea to let someone refer to you in a way that can be even remotely construed as derogatory, disrespectful or racist, no matter the name-caller’s intent. For starters, it’s neither cute nor funny. And the moment you LET someone refer to you that way is the moment that you co-sign everyone else getting in on that action.

In other words, they both need to know that wrong is wrong and racism is real—no matter what color the president is, no matter how many kumbaya moments we’re engaging in with other races, no matter how far white folks think we’ve come.

Anything less is akin to this mother letting her daughter and friend play with matches without explaining to them that they’re dangerous and could burn the house down.

post signature


  1. Thank you for speaking the truth on this issue. I am a biracial mother and I was always taught by both my white mother and black father to never let someone speak to you in any derogatory way, period. I was always taught to speak up for myself and speak my mind. This woman should be less concerned with the 'affection' she thinks the children have for one another and more concern with the self-image her daughter has to accept such treatment.

  2. I am biracial and my mom was never that clueless. Perhaps because she was Jewish and had experienced racism, perhaps because she was married to a black man during a time when they could not have safely visited many states in the US. When you marry someone who is different from you, you need to learn about their culture-it's part of them and will be part of your children.

    The part the woman is missing is that there is really nothing truly negative about being blonde, if that was the case, there wouldn't be so many fake ones. The whole dumb blonde thing is no comparison being black. Maybe the kids didn't quite get it, but the mother should and should explain it to them. This smells bad for the same reason Ted Danson in black face while he dated Whoopi Goldberg left a bad taste in our mouth. Ain't nothing funny about it.

  3. My mouth literally fell open. I have no words. . . . really . . . none.

  4. ...and this is why I love honest writing. I appreciate the fact that you spoke a truth that many of us feel, but some are afraid to express for fear of being called anything but "safe".

    I agree with you that both girls needed to be enlightened as to what was wrong with the situation and what a lack of correction on the issue would inevitably breed. I seldom by that "not my intent" line of crap because the blind eye thing is far to convenient a shelter for many to use as cover for insensitivity. We have to teach our children to speak up for themselves and set the parameters around which they should be addressed. Indeed, there is much work left to be done.

  5. You know, most of me agrees with you, but my mother said something to me recently that gives me pause. She said that my children's generation (they are all under 5 years old), is oblivious to the racial history of the US. To them, Barack Obama is President that they will ever know. In their minds, color is just color until someone else (usually an adult) imposes their own insecurities, sensitivities and hangups on the child. The fact that the biracial child can laugh at her friend calling her a "maid" (which is to me, yes, disgusting) is telling. It means that she doesn't put the same weight on the term as you or I would. In a way, that's refreshing. Of course the flip side of that is that our children MUST learn and understand history in order to live intelligently as well as to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself. However, it makes me think: "Do our issues have to be our kids' issues?" Probably yes. But it's worth thinking about...

    {now the fact that the "blonde" knew enough to explain WHY she was calling her friend her "maid" kind of kills my point, b/c obviously her calling her that was not random and shows that she did have some context for the term.}

  6. I think each of the children are a product of their environment. They don't recognize racial discrimination. To them, it isn't a part of their lives YET which is why they embrace these pet names. Hopefully, they will be educated soon -- that these "endearments" are slurs, simply hurtful and demeaning. Like you said, WHEN it happens, it will be a big deal...Sad.

  7. @Fergie: HAAAAAYYYY! So good to see you in the house—I always love your insightful comments! I do agree that SOME of our children don't put weight on color until we adults sully it for them, but that's exactly why this mother needs to be vigilant. Because a 5-year-old will not see color, but a middle schooler will notice color and make assessments on it (i.e., back in the day, you would have been my slave; the color of your hair means you're dumb), and a high schooler will have enough years around ignorant adults to have formed some stereotypical, prejudiced conclusions about people who don't look/speak/act like them. I mean, consider this: We have a black president, but we also have tea party members showing up to the White House and spitting on black Congressmen and calling them the "N" word, and waving signs with pictures of President Obama looking like a monkey caricature. So long as those people are around, there's a chance that the 5-year-old who doesn't see color will be influenced by the 50 year-old who lets color blind him. That's what we have to prepare these children for—that for every 100 people who will love them no matter what they look like, there will be 100 more who will hate them for no other reason than what they look like. I just don't see a day when that will ever end, sadly.

  8. I'm gob-smacked. What's next? Will the bi-racial child now think it's ok to sign her letters and emails "Affectionately, your pickanniny"???

    GOB-SMACKED I tell you.

  9. Hmm, ::pursed lips:: I'm not buying the mother's race as an excuse for why she didn't see this kind of "joshing" as potentially dangerous. Blonde vs. Maid- in America, no less?! I don't care what color you are you know being blonde has a very different connotation than being a servant.

    My first thought, having bi-racial children was that the daughter accepted the name as a shield; beating potentially more harmful, denigrating names to the punch so to speak. I've seen and dealt with this before with my oldest child, and not by lovingly accepting it.

    I don't know, I am sensitive about these's just never okay on either side of the color line to be anybody's joke. Race is such a powerful construct even when we pretend not to notice-even in the most peace-loving, progressive, diverse homes. There is nothing about the history of race relations in America that I find humorous-the end.

  10. @T. Allen-Mercado: As always, so eloquently said. Thank you for lending your voice. I don't want to tell this woman how to mother her children; it is her right to raise her babies as she sees fit. But I do plan to post this link on momlogic and her facebook page so that she can get perspective from some people of color and other bi-racial children and parents because right now, it seems that she is speaking solely to other people with the same one-sided perspective as her own, which simply isn't helpful to her or her child if she's REALLY seeking ways to handle this situation. My hope is that she reads this with an open mind and understands that there is most likely a very different viewpoint when you're a person of color talking about race relations, both then and now.

  11. Love it when you speak your mind! Both girls need some enlightenment, stat!

  12. The little girl needs to call her MOTHER a dumb blonde! Unbelievable. Thanks for addressing this issue and I hope the woman read your pose because she surely needs to be educated about what this means. Sad that she is white and has a black child because her blac child will never learn from her mother what it means to be black and what she will endure because of her color. Her mother surely can't teach her and is ignorant. All I can say is Wow...


Speak Your Mind Here

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

wibiya widget