LAST YEAR I went on my first cruise. Joined by my favorite kinfolk, I caught up on my rest, sampled craft beer, and enjoyed some really great food. As the boat made its way to the Caribbean and Cayman Islands, I attended a performance by Delta Rae, a rock and folk band with Southern roots and a flair for storytelling. I was moved by many of the songs they performed that night, but it was their song “Hands Dirty” that stayed with me long after we disembarked.
The song gives voice to a woman who, like many in the service industry, works hard but doesn’t catch a break. In the chorus, vocalists Brittany Hölljes and Liz Hopkins sing:
I get my hands dirty
I show up so early
They show me no mercy
So I just keep working
Maybe God could save me
In this song I heard someone whose work had never been recognized. I heard echoes of all the ways our society has continually undervalued women’s labor—especially the labor of women of color, who are disproportionately marginalized in the workforce. Yet even as this woman experienced the sharp end of capitalism’s stick, the song made it clear she wasn’t giving up; she was going to keep working, imagining the future could be different. And as I listened, I thought: Isn’t that our work right now—to get our hands dirty? To imagine a different way of being and becoming, take a leap of faith, dig deep, and roll up our sleeves? And, if that is our work, do we have the courage to do it?