The Oxford English Dictionary first cites use of “motherfucker” in 1889. At the trial of Levy v. State, the killer testified that he was called a: “motherfucking, bastardly son-of-a-bitch.” The Court pardoned this man’s bloodthirst: he had earned the right to slash open his accuser with righteous indignation.
They say black slaves invented “motherfucker.” It referred to the white men that had raped their mothers. It was easier to call the slave master “motherfucker” than “father.” Easier to reduce him to an act of lust than thank him for giving you life.
The three worst things to call a man are motherfucker, bastard, and son-of-a-bitch. Each insult stacks itself on a mother’s back. We smother her with our weight, call her children illegitimate, punish her sons for being half-woman.
In school, I was the only kid with a single mother. The only kid without pictures of her mother in a wedding dress. The stay-at-home mothers worked every bake sale. As I passed by they would whisper: “Those kind of fathers never stick around.”
My mother refuses to call herself the Other Woman. The motherfucker had promised to leave his wife. I still can’t curse my father without dragging my mother through the crossfire.
My father has reclaimed motherfucker. When my mother would tell him to man up and raise me, he said he was just the sperm donor. It was easier to reduce himself to an act of lust than admit he gave me life.
They say “motherfucker” was the worst thing a black slave could be called. It meant rapist, it meant monster that thinks black people should be whipped, traded, and sold.
My mother asks me what it is like to date white men, if wanting it rough feels too much like life on the plantation. When I tell her my white boyfriend dumped me for calling him “rapist,” she says, “That has nothing to do with me.” She had learned these words from my father each time he got her pregnant.
How dare anyone accuse him of penetrating someone’s mother, of beckoning hell without a wedlocked baby blanket, of suckling milk from the breast of an impossible woman.
When I was baby, my father took me to get my ears pierced. I could not have been more than a year old. I can picture my mother turning red, steam coming out of her ears, like a cartoon character. I know this fury, the way she saws your name through her teeth. She says I used to wear magnet earrings. The backs were little square magnets glued to my earlobes. Matching my earrings to my outfit was as simple as putting a report card on the fridge. After high school, I went two years without wearing earrings. The holes never closed up; I would be stuck with them forever. My grandmother used to wear earrings to bed, heavy costume jewelry. One night they tore from her ears. She has a small line in each ear from the hole to the tip of the earlobe. She never got re-pierced; instead, she wears clip-ons. She says a woman is supposed to have pierced ears, that it is better I did it young. As if I didn’t get pierced before I could speak, the choice made for me a secular baptism.
Proof My Parents Once Had Things In Common
During the Gel Pen Boom of 1999, I wrote my book report
on Lydia, Queen of Palestine. Every few pages, Lydia’s mother
would call her ex-husband’s new girlfriend “That Woman.”
Loyal daughter she was, Lydia named her ugliest doll
“That Woman,” a witch she always killed off in fires.
My mom called my dad’s new wife by her name.
She bit back insults with a stubborn dignity,
like a Death Row inmate refusing her last meal.
If Mom had recognized her, we would have picked
a different line. Just the thought of “That Woman” knowing
what groceries we buy, or seeing Mom without makeup.
As they ricocheted niceties, I noticed a woman
with an epic wedgie. I whispered about it to Mom.
“Don’t make fun of that woman,” she said. She looked
toward my dad’s new wife, as if staging a photograph.
Normally, she would have laughed.
Once the PR stunt was through, Mom explained:
I couldn’t let her think we were talking about her.
At the roller rink on Christian Skate Night, my dad
gave his Kirk Franklin CD to the DJ. He spun and spun
in the middle of the floor, while I clutched onto the railing.
When he lost his balance, he propelled himself toward me,
and pulled us down to the ground. “What’d you do that for?”
I yelled. Then, he told me, “If you’re already going down,
you might as well pull down someone you love.”
Lauren Yates is an introverted Leo who lives in West Philadelphia. When she isn’t researching how microaggressions impact queer people of color, Lauren spends her time writing and performing poems. She has an uncanny ability to name that tune from only a bassline and can find parallels between any two things, no matter how unrelated they are. For more information, visit http://www.laurentyates.com