The Pterodactyl lost his Nintendo DS privileges over the weekend for hitting his sister. Twice. Since he’s only allowed to play it on weekends, he didn’t take the punishment well. He verbalized the injustice in tones completely void of calm or reason. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS,” he screeched. He tore at my clothes, and flailed his arms like a swarm of wasps was attacking him.
It took him a while to realize we weren’t backing down. Also, when he threatened to break a lamp, I threw a shoe at his head, and that helped.
After he calmed down, he approached me warily and put his sticky little hand in mine. I kissed his forehead and gave him a hug. “Mom,” he said. “I feel slaved.”
Me: You feel slaved?
Boy: Yeah. Like I’m not free.
Me: Why do you feel slaved?
Boy: Because I can’t do what I want.
Me: Well. I’m sorry you feel that way.
Then he disappeared to watch some television, and began shouting orders at me. MOM, can I have some water? MOM, will you make me a hot dog? MOM, will you get Fuzzy Pillow?
DAMN, I thought. If anyone’s slaved around here, it’s me. To my credit, I only did one of those things for him.
I told that story over the next couple of days because, you know, it’s a little bit hilare. But each time, I felt more uncomfortable about using the word slaved. Then last night, I had an anxiety attack and couldn’t sleep so I read this incredible piece about Martin Luther King, Jr. by Hamden Rice of The Daily Kos. Rice maintains that most Americans view King as a great orator and obvious proponent of civil rights – but fail to recognize the enormity of what he did, which is “end the terror of living as a black person.”
In the article, Rice wrote the following passage, which blew me the fuck away.
Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.
Damn. What if they did that to redheads? Snarky redheads? It would make exactly as much sense, which is to say none at all. It’s not a perspective us white people generally consider, perhaps because it makes us squeamish. But obviously it’s more relevant and striking than just quoting from the “I Have A Dream” speech, although certainly I’m all for great quotes.
So in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous war against terrorism, which of course began when Americans kidnapped Africans and enslaved them, I hereby commit to abolishing the word slave and all its derivatives from my casual vocabulary. And next time the Pterodactyl tells me he’s slaved, I’m going to correct him immediately. “You’re not slaved,” I will say. “You’re free as a bird. Go make yourself a hot dog, and we’ll talk about it.”