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By L. Divine
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 L. Divine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBlack Girls
"Light skin, dark skin, my Asian persuasion/ I got them all, that's why these girls out here hatin'." -JANET JACKSON
For once, it's good to be back at school. Stepping out of my car, I notice the air feels new this morning. I guess it's because all of the bad things Misty did were undone when I took back my dreams, including me snatching her weaved head up, which resulted in me going to counseling even though it won't go on my school record because no one remembers. It's nice to have received the benefits of the mandatory week of anger management counseling I had to endure without suffering the consequences. It's also nice that Nellie, Mickey, and I are speaking again. I need my girls to make it through the long days at South Bay High.
"What's up, bitch?" Nellie asks as I approach my girls in the main hall. Now that I'm driving myself instead of taking the bus, I'm managing mornings better, so I don't arrive on campus so early. And Nellie's back to getting a ride with Mickey, as it should be.
"Who you calling a bitch?" I ask, looking around for someone else. I know she's not talking to me or Mickey, because those are definitely fighting words where we come from.
"You, bitch." If it weren't for the smile on Nellie's face I would think she was serious.
"We don'tdo that," Mickey says, correcting our girl. She rolls her eyes at me and smiles, knowing how bougie Nellie can be.
"But Laura and her girls say that to each other all the time." I wish we could have stopped Nellie from associating with the ASB clique, but that happened before Misty lost her damn mind. "It's a term of endearment."
"Not for us it's not," I say, walking with my girls from Mickey's locker to mine. The warning bell for first period rings in the buzzing hall, putting the fear of detention in everyone present, especially me. With Mr. Adewale as my new first period teacher, my days of excused tardies from my former Spanish teacher/football coach are over. Mr. A is serious about his shit, and I'm serious about staying on his good side.
"What's so bad about calling your homegirl a bitch if it's said with the utmost love and respect?" Nellie asks. Mickey and I look at our girl and shake our heads in disbelief. Nellie's clueless on certain subjects, and the black girl code of etiquette is one of them.
"Look at Laura and her girls and then look at us," I say, gesturing to the bitch crew entering the hall from the main office. "Now you tell me what's the difference." I open my backpack and switch out my books. I need to clean my locker, but I'm afraid of throwing anything away, especially after what happened last time. Misty went through my trash and found a note, trying to help incriminate me for forging an excuse for Mickey and Nigel when they ditched school, which is what got us into trouble in the first place. I'm glad that's all behind us, but I'm not putting anything past Misty after what we just went through.
"They're rich and we're not. Well, y'all aren't, but you feel me," Nellie says, flipping her straight hair over her right shoulder.
"You ain't balling either, Miss Thang," Mickey says, checking Nellie. I'm so glad we're back to "us" I don't know what to do. Dealing with them one-on-one was too much for a sistah to handle.
"We're black, Nellie, and they are not. We don't go around calling each other bitches, hoes, or any other derogatory term, because of the history attached to the words for us and our ancestors." I slam my locker door shut and begin speed-walking toward my first period, with my girls in tow. They can afford to stroll into their class late, unlike me.
"Jayd, you really should let go of all of that negativity. History's in the past. Leave it there." I stop in my tracks and stare at my girl. Mickey laughs at my reaction, but I know she feels part of what I'm saying. My ancestors are probably crying right now, they're so mad.
"Nellie, have you ever heard us refer to each other as bitches and then hug afterwards?" I'm liable to smack a female instead of embrace her if she calls me out of my name.
"Hell to the no," Mickey says, taking a pack of Skittles out of her purse and eating them. Mickey looks at Nellie with a dare in her eyes and Nellie returns the stare. My girls are crazy. I'm just glad we're all on the same side again. As small as the black population is on this campus, we can't afford to be at odds with each other. It's bad enough the three of us don't get along with the South Central clique, where the other twenty-plus black students chill. Without each other, Nellie, Mickey, and I would truly be lost. I remember that feeling, even if my girls don't, and it was a lonely existence.
"Y'all are too sensitive. It's not that big a deal," Nellie says as we exit the main hall. The morning air feels different with spring approaching. I love this time of year and not just because my birthday's next month. Something about warm seasons makes school-and life in general-more pleasant.
"Good morning, ladies," Nigel says, greeting us all as we walk across the courtyard. He puts his arm across Mickey's shoulders and falls in step with us.
"Good morning," we say in unison. Even with the semester change, the three of them still share most of the same classes. At first I wasn't sure about having a general ed class, but it hasn't been that bad, with the exception of having to deal with Misty and KJ. Now that our crew is solid, I know it'll be live in fourth period for the remainder of the semester.
"What up, dog?" Chance says, greeting Nigel before saying hi to us. He kisses Nellie on the lips and then big ups Mickey and me. "Good session this weekend, man."
"Yes, it was," Nigel says, reminding me of the last conversation I had with Rah on Saturday. I haven't talked to him since I found out his baby-mama is his new roommate. He's called and texted me a million times since then, and he can keep on blowing my cell up. Mama says if I don't have anything nice to say I shouldn't say anything at all. And whatever comes out of my mouth won't be good for Rah, so I'm going to avoid cussing him out for as long as I possibly can.
"Bye, bitches," Nellie says, running toward their first period class ahead of Mickey and Nigel, with Chance right behind her. She thinks she's funny but she's not. Calling one another bitches is something Nellie needs to reserve for her white friends. We black girls are not feeling that shit in the least.
"That's your friend," Mickey says. Nigel laughs at his girl, and I can't help but do the same.
"But you've known her longer," I add. We make it to my Spanish class, where the door is wide open. Mr. Adewale doesn't count you as present unless you're sitting at your desk when the bell stops ringing. We have about a minute to go before the final bell rings, officially starting the school day.
Mr. A looks up at me from the stack of papers on his desk. His smile is reserved, but I feel more caution in his eyes than usual. Maybe Ms. Toni had the same conversation she had with me about him and me associating with each other on a friendly basis. I think she's overreacting, but what can I say? I know how these folks up here are, and with them being the only two teachers of color on the lily-white faculty, I can't say that I blame her. I just wish she had a little more faith in me.
"Don't remind me," Mickey says. As she takes her backpack off of her shoulders and passes it to Nigel to carry, I notice a new picture keychain hanging with our old photo from homecoming.
"What's this?" I ask, taking a look at the photo. It's a picture of Mickey, Nigel, Chance, Nellie, Rah, and me from the Valentine's Day dance last Friday.
"What do you mean? You have the same one, remember?" she says, fingering the same set of photos hanging from my backpack. I'm glad there's a picture to prove we were all in attendance at the dance because I don't remember any of it-another side effect from the dream sharing thanks to Misty. And from the smiles on our faces it looks like we had a good time.
"My bad, girl. You know I'm sleep deprived." Luckily I'm not anymore, but I have to blame my memory loss on something, and that's part of the truth.
"We'll see you in third period, Jayd. We have a meeting with the principal at break," Nigel says as the final bell rings. I glance at Mr. A, who has his pencil and attendance sheet ready to mark the latecomers.
"Holla," Mickey says as she and her man casually stroll toward their first-period class. I missed Mickey being on the main campus briefly before I went back and changed the past, including Mickey deciding to take the principal's suggestion for her to attend the continuation school across the football field. She talked with Nigel about the administration bullying her, and they've decided to stand up to the powers that be, together. I'm glad she decided to stay and fight. We have to stick together in this wilderness. Otherwise, they will pluck us out one by one, with us girls being the first on their exit list. I'm not leaving this campus until I have a diploma in my hand, and I hope Mickey feels the same way.
First period's not as chill as it used to be with Mr. Donald, but with Mr. Adewale we're actually learning Spanish. Even the new kid on the block, Emilio, is impressed by Mr. Adewale's command of the foreign language. I don't know why Emilio's in Spanish class since he can speak his first tongue fluently. But I enjoy the attention he gives me.
Emilio and I didn't get to talk much in first period because Mr. A decided it would be fun to have a pop quiz on Chapter One, which he told us to study thoroughly last week. It was a challenge, but I think I did okay. I can't speak for the rest of the class. But when we walked out a few moments ago, I heard other students calling Mr. A everything but a child of God.
"Miss Jackson, please pass these out for me when you get settled," Mrs. Malone says as I walk into my second-period class, pointing to a stack of papers at the corner of her desk. I hang my backpack on the corner of my chair and claim the papers while the rest of the class files in before the bell rings.
"What's this?" Alia, my favorite English classmate, asks. "Damn, another paper already? The semester just started a couple of weeks ago." I agree. But there's no rest for the weary and we are definitely worn out on our AP track. After the AP exams in a few weeks, everything will hopefully calm down.
"Oh, Miss Cole," Mrs. Malone says to Alia. "You're a very talented writer. You shouldn't have any complaints." She rises from her seat as the bell rings and props herself up on the corner of her desk, ready to begin class. I place the last handout on my desk and sit down next to Alia, who's already started copying the daily notes from the board.
"Good morning, class. Today's quote is from one of my favorite writers, John Updike. Charlotte, would you mind reciting it, please?" The bland-looking white girl puts on her glasses and reads from the whiteboard. Out of all the students in this class, she's my least favorite.
"'Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.'" The class continues copying the words from the board while reflecting on what was just said. Mrs. Malone has a peaceful order to her class that I look forward to on a daily basis. After a few moments of silence, everyone puts their pens down and waits for our teacher to speak.
"Do you think this quote is true, that dreams really do come true?" After the question lingers in the air for a moment, I take the initiative and answer, since everyone else is apparently still asleep this morning.
"Yes, I do. But not because he said it." I already know from our reading of some of his short stories that Updike is some old white man. And most of the ideas he has aren't really that original. Mrs. Malone looks at me knowingly, ready to challenge my opinions. That's why I like her. For a middle-aged white woman, she's pretty cool when it comes to literary stuff.
"Dig deeper, Jayd," she says, repeating her mantra. If I had a dime for every time she said that I'd be a rich woman by now.
"Well, take for example the dream of becoming the first black president. If Obama hadn't had the thought, he wouldn't have been able to picture it as his reality," I say, causing most eyes to roll. It's Black History Month, but you wouldn't know it at this school until the end of the month. Every year they hold a voluntary assembly during lunch, merging the announcement of the Cultural Awareness Festival with the end of Black History Month. Works my nerves every year. Out of protest, I usually don't attend.
"Good, Jayd, but go even further than that. And take race out of it, because I know that's what you're thinking." Easy for her to say. I hate when Mrs. Malone pretends she can read our minds, even if she's right. Who does she think she is, Mama?
"I don't agree with Updike," Charlotte says. "First off, I think he's wrong to say that nature incites us to have dreams. I think it's our daily experiences that make us dream. Nature has nothing to do with that." I marvel at Charlotte's ignorance. Some people are so clueless.
"How can nature have nothing to with that, if it's a daily experience? Nature is in everything, including our daily lives." The rest of the class watch Charlotte and me go back and forth in a tennis match of words. For them, it's nothing new. Charlotte and I are the most vocal participants on our AP track.
"Jayd, please. You think nature really gives a damn whether or not you dream?" She can cuss in class all day. And as long as she doesn't go too far with it, Mrs. Malone won't check her. Now let me say some shit like that and I'll automatically be reprimanded for being the angry black girl in the room, fo sho.
"Here we go," Alia whispers to me, making me smile. If it weren't for her comic relief, I'd probably tolerate Charlotte's ass much less than I already do.
"Nature controls grass and trees and whatnot, not our psyches. My daddy says that dreams are merely an indication that we have achieved deep sleep-rapid eye movement-nothing more." Charlotte's father is some pseudo shrink who's famous for his books on the power of the mind to help you get rich. She thinks she's hot shit. I can't stand her ass on a good day.
"Well, your daddy's wrong," I say, making the class laugh-all except for Charlotte, of course. "Nature's in all things. We can't be separate from creation because we are a part of it, including our minds."
"That's a very interesting perspective, Jayd. Why do you think we are a part of nature?" Mrs. Malone asks, looking at me curiously like I'm about to say something profound.
"Because we didn't create ourselves. And not only that, every element in the Earth can be found inside of our bodies. We are mostly water, so is the Earth." Before I can continue, Charlotte interrupts my flow.
"Because we are part of the evolutionary process doesn't mean that nature controls our thoughts. That's such a primitive idea." Both the rude interruption and the insult warrant a beat-down.
"Excuse me?" I say, my attitude moving into my neck. "Did you just call me primitive?" Mama still doesn't shop at Ikea to this day because they described one of their kente prints as primitive. Not African, but primitive, like they couldn't find any other word in the entire English language to accurately describe the West African pattern.
"I called your thought process primitive; simplistic, passé, ancient," Charlotte says, angering me more with every synonym for the offensive word that slips from her tongue. I envision slapping the taste out of her mouth, spit flying everywhere, and wiping that smug smile clear off her face.
"Sometimes simple is more complex than we give it credit for." I know Mrs. Malone thinks she's helping me, but now I feel even more offended.
"Nothing about nature is simple, dreaming included." The steadiness in my voice stills the excited room and scares me a little, too. I'm so sick of defending myself against these white folks up here. It's both mentally and spiritually exhausting. And what's even more annoying is that they don't get how ingrained their racism is.
"Whatever, Jayd. Some of us read and educate ourselves without just shooting off our opinions. I can recommend a few valid references if you'd like to study the topic in depth." I look at Charlotte and imagine her head blowing up, her red hair flying all over the spacious classroom. Noting the heat rising to my cheeks, Mrs. Malone takes the topic over and shifts gears.
Excerpted from CULTURE CLASH by L. Divine Copyright © 2010 by L. Divine. Excerpted by permission.
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