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By Yahdon Israel

     My mother’s hands taught me everything had two sides. Her hands were nuanced with the toiled mastery of motherhood: They persuaded bellyaches to leave; they massaged shampoo, grease, and oil into my little sisters’ and my dreads with the precision of a finetoothed comb.

     They roamed our backs convincing the rest of our body to keep up with the expedition, until our bodies—exhausted by its inability to follow—fell asleep. These same hands, however, condemned as swiftly as they forgave.

     They came as a surprise to the back of my head when I answered questions that I was not asked: “Boy, mind your business; wasn’t anyone talking to you.” They turned into fists and fired, like a rocket from its launcher, into my chest when the questions that were asked of me went unanswered: “I’m going to ask you one more time, whose game is this?”

     They also sewed fabric together in a fashion disregarding that other little black boys in Bed-Stuy did not wear patterned tunics with matching patterned harem pants. These hands cared less that other little black boys wore beanies and baseball caps instead of gold textured crowns; these hands cared less that other people— Tommy Hilfiger, Phat Farm and even French Toast—made clothes. These hands cared less for “the others:” “They’re not my children,” she’d always say; these hands cared for her own: “Y’all are.”


About the Author

Yahdon Israel is a twenty-six-year-old writer from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, who writes about race, class, gender, and culture in America. He has written for Avidly, The New Inquiry, ESPNW and Brooklyn Magazine. He’s a contributing editor at LitHub; he recently graduated with his MFA in creative nonfiction from the New School, and runs a popular Instagram feed which promotes literature and fashion under the hashtag #literaryswag. Above all else: he keeps it lit.