An author, playwright, producer, and director, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha’s background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her fifth grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class—that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at the University of Southern California. Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn’t mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for Best Actress. She feels that this acting stint gave her more fuel to write, and particularly, a better understanding of character development.
Alretha left acting and began to write full-time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces—the community response was overwhelming. This led to full length plays outside of the church including Alretha’s play, Sacrificing Simone (2007), which had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called “an inspirational crowd pleaser” by the Los Angeles Times and her most recent work, the ground breaking OneWoman, Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by Denise Dowse, which garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences. In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008.
“I’m Not Ma’am, I’m Alretha”
I can’t quite remember the first time I was called that infamous four-letter word MA’AM. It had to have been when I was in my twenties, because it’s said that a person remembers the greatest and the most horrific things in their life. So being called ma’am in my twenties was very uneventful. It meant nothing, it swept over me like sparkling water on a duckling’s back. After all, in my twenties, I was firm, beautiful, and varicose and stretch mark-free. I had my whole life in front of me, and of course, the old man who called me ma’am was being cute. It’s like when the big time executive calls the doorman boss. I hate that by the way. It just seems a bit condescending. Let me not digress.
Fast forward thirty years. I’m no longer in my twenties, and I have more flab than a sumo wrestler. To make matters worst, I have so many varicose veins and stretch marks, I could be the first human GPS system. Okay, I might be exaggerating about the sumo wrestler thingy, but not about the later. In essence I have aged. No one in the male population under sixty is breaking their neck to get a look at me. I am a woman, an older woman, a middle-aged woman. Dangit! I’m a MA’AM, and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. I know it’s respectful to call an older woman ma’am. That’s what everyone says, but it’s hard to swallow. It seems just like yesterday when I was a MISS, a HOTTIE. Now the only time I get a miss is when I’m lucky enough to encounter some young twenty-something lad who has been previously beaten down for calling some middle-aged woman who was having a bad day ma’am. So he knows better. And the only time I can refer to myself as a hottie is when I’m having my own private summer.
I know I should stop tripping and embrace my new respectful title. I could be called worse. I could be called bitch. But in some circles ma’am is just a euphemism for bitch. Have you ever spoken to a rude customer service rep? Now you know, when the conversation gets heated, and the person pauses and says ma’am! they are really saying bitch! I could even handle ma’am if I wasn’t being called ma’am by so many people twice my age. There’s a security guard at my job that looks old enough to have been Methuselah’s body guard and he has the nerve to holler “Good morning ma’am!” every time he sees me. I cringe as the words fall on my wrinkled earlobes. It got so bad that my co-worker had a shirt made for me that said “Don’t call me ma’am.” And of course, he ignored it. I finally had words with him and he said what everybody says, “I call you ma’am out of respect. I’m from Arkansas and that’s how I was raised.” I stopped, took a breath, and stopped tripping for a minute and kindly said, “I’m not ma’am, I’m Alretha.” He parted his lips and gave me a mesmerizing smile and said, “Nice to meet you, Alretha.” “Nice to meet you too,” I said and returned his smile. I waved bye, turned on my heel, and headed to the elevator at which point I heard him say under his breath “Bye bitch!”