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‘The Gold Teeth’
A Story of Race and Death

When I grew up, I spent the afternoons at my grandmommy’s store at Alicanne and Rose. My brother was upset once because my father wouldn’t let him listen to Motown music. My parents were polish but my daddy was so dark they called him Wop. He died when I was still a little girl. He had fought in Korea. So did my uncle and he brought home a Japanese wife. She was the prettiest, sweetest lady in the neighborhood and the other wives hated her. She never taught their kids to speak Japanese and they never understood why. She was my favorite aunt. But my grandmother, she ruled the roost!

We always knew that black kids would beat you up and rob you, but I never appreciated the crowd effect until one summer day, my grandmother came up front—I would sit by the front door and look out the window—and said, “The niggers will be coming to clean us out. The pool is closed. Lock the door.”

This must have been a weekend, because it was a normal thing to lock the doors when school got out and they all came by to take their free candy. She was a hard woman. She sat there by the door while I hid behind the counter, her butcher knife in her hand, when a whole mob of them came around the corner, swarming, banging on the windows, pulling on the door, cussing, screaming for us to let them in, from first grade and up, the whole bunch of them wanting their free candy.

She didn’t flinch an inch. That woman was like a statue.

We were never taught to hate anybody, just to stay to ourselves.

My oldest brother used to call them niggers to their face—even the guys he worked with—and beat their asses.

My oldest sister is a total racist, every other word out of her mouth is the n-word—like Don Rickles in a wig.

My next brother got robbed by them, but liked their music and now his daughters are either married or knocked up by black guys at his Thanksgiving table.

Me, I never had a chance. They beat me up when I was a little girl, stole from me when I was my own woman, threatened to beat me up at work and constantly insist that I owe them something for what some rich white fucker did to them when my Polack ancestors were ploughing fields in Poland.

Now my mother, Shirley, she never used the N-word. She’d just say, “The Gold Teeth are comin’. Hide your money.”

I remember, right before she died, she said to me, “I never gave God much thought. But what if he’s black? You know, all the Hollywood people think they’re great, the news people say they’re innocent, and I’ve got little brown ones in my family, so maybe he is black. But if he’s got gold teeth, I’m goin’ ta Hell.”

It must suck to be born and raised under one set of rules and work and die under another.


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Add Comment
BobMarch 8, 2018 11:04 PM UTC

What about people's techniques for handling or foisting off beggars, or keeping safe distance and perhaps civility? (I never give).
responds:March 9, 2018 10:47 AM UTC

I addressed it years ago and forget which book, so will do so next week.