“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.”
Mae Jemison, astronaut
“Y’ know back in mah day, Black weymen couldn’t get jes any ole jawb,” there was a somber tenor in my grandmother’s voice. She shifted slightly in her chair and crossed and re-crossed her legs at the ankles. I revealed to her that I wanted to be a writer, being 9 or 10-years old at the time, I wasn’t sure yet.
She could have easily told me to find a good job, a husband, settle down and have some kids; instead she told me that I could be what I wanted. Her only advice was that whatever it was, I should do it well.
“Eef yur’ a maid, be a gud maid. Eef yur a doctor be a gud doctor and so on. Jes take pride in whatever it is you do.”
For her, three or four generations removed from living on a plantation, southern African-American women in her day traditionally did not take on major roles in the business world. Instead they assumed roles that were inherited or that they were expected to fill — maids, cooks, nannies, or sharecroppers. And when she started watching television and movies in the 50s and 60s, she saw African-American women in roles that mirrored what she saw every day — casted as maids, cooks, nannies, or sharecroppers.
The 9 or 10-year old version of me couldn’t imagine having to pick a specific profession simply because that was the way other people saw me or worse turned down from a job simply because I’m an African-American woman. Now, the thirty-something year old me know better. Call it a hunch or intuition but I learned quickly who was playing fair and with whom I could call foul.
My point is, during the times when I discovered that things were not on the level, it didn’t stop me. It slowed me down, but it didn’t stop me. I could have become bitter and resentful but I didn’t. Admittedly, I’ve had set backs (Lord knows I have) and even still some days I wake up and wonder: what tha’ hell am I doing here? Am I living up to my true potential? Am I being authentic?As for my grandmother, she wanted to be an entrepreneur – she would have proudly owned and operated a restaurant (and would have been amazing no doubt). But like her and countless others, they unselflessly sacrificed their dreams and did what they had to do for the sake of doing it. I’m grateful to women like them who braved the hurricane so that I would only have to endure a little rain.
So I’ll pass on to you what she taught me: If you’re going to be a maid be a good one, if you’re going to be a doctor be a good doctor. Just take pride in whatever it is you do.
Also implied is that there’s nothing wrong with being a maid or doctor, there’s a problem when you believe that it is all you are capable of being.
You define you. You shape your path. You decide.