LaToya Williams lives in Montgomery, Alabama, and attends a mostly white high school. It seems as if her only friend is her older brother, Alex. Toya doesn’t know where she fits in, but after a run-in with another student, she wonders if life would be different if she were . . . different. And then a higher power answers her prayer: to be “anything but black.”
Toya is suddenly white, blond, and popular. Now what?
Randi Pink’s audacious fiction debut dares to explore a subject that will spark conversations about race, class, and gender.
About the Author
Randi Pink grew up in the South and attended a mostly white high school. She lives with her husband and their two rescue dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, where she works for a branch of National Public Radio. Into White is her fiction debut.
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By Randi Pink
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Randi Pink
All rights reserved.
DENT IN HIS JORDANS
On the way to first period, the cheap plastic strap on my book bag broke. The single pink thread that held on for the first six months of school had finally freed itself, dropping hefty textbooks onto Deanté's spanking-new Air Jordan basketball sneakers. With only a handful of black kids at 96 percent–white Edgewood High School, God let my textbooks fall at the feet of the cruelest one.
"Damn, girl! Where you get that broke-down backpack from? Alabama Thrift?" said Deanté, high-fiving two of his friends. "You ain't got nothing to say for yourself? Hey. Your book dented my sneaks. While you picking up those books, buff that damn dent out my sneakers."
I stared at the dent in his red-and-black Jordans. That quarter-sized impression felt bigger than the entire town of Edgewood. My eyes met Deanté's. There was pity there; I could see it. The same pity that an Asian would have for a fellow Asian, a Mexican would for a Mexican. An Indian for another Indian.
"Get the damn dent out my Jordans!"
I bowed forward to hide the tremble in my chin and the moisture gathering around my eyes. When my knees hit the floor, Deanté's crew doubled over with laughter.
"I knew she would do it, D," someone hollered.
"She's the weakest black girl I've ever seen, bruh," another voice announced.
"Get a backbone, gal!" a passerby yelled on his way to class.
Of all the races in the world, why did God put me in the only one that didn't stick up for one another? No, worse, the one that fights members of its own army: dark-skinned against light-skinned, uppity against inner city, good hair against bad hair; Deanté against Toya. I hated him — more than the insults and the ridicule. I hated that he dropped his g's and added extra syllables to words that didn't deserve them. I hated his dark skin and bad hair. I hated everything about him that reminded me of myself. Deanté and I got the crap end of the stick in Montgomery, Alabama, where black was a disease.
"All right! The dent's been gone, you can get off your knees," Deanté said. But I didn't dare move.
Four sets of Jordans surrounded me — purple and white, red and black, black and gold, and finally, Deanté's red-and-black pair. My knees pressed hard into the linoleum. I wanted the floor to suck me in and take me away from all the Jordans.
"Get up, girl," said the black-and-gold pair.
"I know, right?" scoffed purple and white. "Black girls don't act like that. We need to snatch her black card."
Deanté took a small step toward me and placed his hand on my left collarbone. In my mind, I broke all five of his fingers. In actuality, I did nothing.
"Toya will be just fine when she realizes she ain't white," he said before giving my shoulder a slight squeeze. "Edgewood ain't no place for the weak."
After a string of amens and ain't-that-the-truths, his friends eased to their classes. "Later, D," they said in succession.
After they left, Deanté slid his palm into the crook of my elbow, lifted me to my feet, and rushed in the direction of his friends. "'Ey!" he yelled. "Y'all wait up."
In the distance, I heard my big brother, Alex. "Toya! My God, what's going on?"
"I — I ..." was all I could get out before my knees buckled. Like always, he caught me before I hit the ground.
And that was it.
That dent in those damn Jordans changed the course of my life.
* * *
Later that night, I did something desperate.
"Hey, Jesus?" I whispered, looking out of my bedroom window. "I can't take this anymore. This filth. This curse. This ... race." I grabbed a handful of skin at my forearm, then my thigh, followed by my breast. Tears fell from my eyes, and I curled into a tight ball at the foot of my twin bed. "I've done everything that you ever asked of me. I've obeyed you. Respected you. Loved you. So, if you ever loved me, please." A giant brown spider crawled along the outside of my windowsill and began spinning the most intricate web I'd ever seen. The next part came out as a whimper. "You said that if I seek you first, the rest shall be added to me. Well, my rest is the power to wake up any race I want. Please, Lord, anything but black."CHAPTER 2
I woke up that morning as white as a Bing Crosby Christmas.
Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Faith of a mustard seed. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and God can and will turn you white if you're a faithful enough Christian. Christians grew like weeds in Montgomery, Alabama; but awesome Christians, like me, were few and far between.
I squeezed a glob of Palmer's Cocoa Butter Lotion in both palms and polished my knees and elbows out of habit. "No more ashy black elbows and knees. Thank you, Jesus!" I shoved the jug of lotion into the Piggly Wiggly paper bag that I'd recycled into my bathroom trash can.
The thin-toothed comb glided easily through my Barbie blond hair. "Hallelujah," I said to my brand-new doe-eyed reflection.
My nose tooted up to a point. I'd always wondered how white people dug in their noses. With the nostril openings so small, how could they get a full index finger inside? I went for it. It fit fine! From the looks of it, the nostril stretched to accommodate the finger. Awesome. Even their nostrils were cooler than black people's.
"God is so good." I traced a baby-pink line around my thin lips and took a prissy half spin to admire the flattest butt anybody's ever seen.
"Praise Jesus!" I hollered.
"Praise Jesus!" echoed my mom from her downstairs bedroom.
"Praise Jesus!" yelled Dad from the other downstairs bedroom.
"Praise Jesus," yawned Alex from the bedroom next door. Praising the Lord was like Marco Polo in my house.
"What are we praising the good Lord for this morning?" my father shouted.
"Does it matter, you old fool?" interrupted my mother. "We're praising God for the sake of praising God! Ain't that right, Toya?"
"Would y'all quit with the fighting?" murmured Alex. The only things my mother and father ever had in common were their mutual regard for Unsolved Mysteries and Jesus Christ. Outside of those two interests, they fought about everything.
I blinked at my reflection, and fish-tail braided red ribbon into my celestial hair. "Seriously, thank you, Jesus."
Before my fabulous transformation, I was the color of either a brown Crayola crayon or a cup of coffee with a single hit of cream. I had searched high and low for me-matching shades, and those were the closest. Fingernail-short, tight, dry curls lined my scalp like tiny black pearls. My evil aunt Evilyn called them "cuckabugs," or a head full of naps. Freshman year in high school, she said I looked like a man. Her exact words were "Girl! You look like a man!" The following day, I picked a rose and stuck it in my cuckabugs in the hopes of looking more like a girl. I was super satisfied with myself, too, until the ants marched into my ear, down my neck and push-up bra. The whole class jumped when I screamed like a hyena and ran down the hall: another notch in my high-school-loser belt.
"Toya! Come on, you're making us late up there in your precious room!" Mom screamed the same line every morning, but that day her tone was especially harsh. No more procrastination. I quit my primping and cracked my bedroom door. Mom, Dad, and Alex were downstairs waiting.
They stood at the base of the staircase, in front of double anterior doors covered in extravagant tempered glass. The curving banister, oak hardwood, and Gone with the Wind chandelier belonged in Southern Living magazine. It was an opulence that most Montgomery black families couldn't afford — most including us. Dad slaved daily double overtime and still needed Mom's help to scrape by.
Mom and Dad worked at the Police Dispatch Center, which received the majority of Montgomery's 9-1-1 calls. Their cubicles were sandwiched together, side by side, and they were in constant competition at work. Who had the highest CPH — calls per hour? Whose calls were most challenging? Who'd received the most caller compliments? They made decent money, but the majority of every penny was reserved for the empty castle.
"Man, do you know that your shirt is as wrinkled as a Pensacola white lady?" Mom spat at Dad.
Dad clenched his teeth and took an extra-large gulp from his black coffee. "Well, if it bothers you so much, why don't you go live with your sister Evilyn, you ole quack!"
A few months back, my mom got fed up with Dad's ridiculousness — his moping, his scruffy appearance, his constant careless coffee spilling, and most of all, his empty castle — and went to live with her best friend and older sister, my evil aunt Evilyn. Mom packed a single duffel bag and ran away from home for a month. I never got a straight answer as to what set my mother off, but I woke up one random Wednesday morning and she was gone.
"That's a new one — quack," inserted Alex. "Good word, Dad."
"Thanks." Dad blushed, and Mom poked Alex's rib.
"I wouldn't have had to come back if you didn't need help paying for your empty castle," answered Mom. "Besides, I couldn't leave my babies to fend for themselves with your crazy tail."
She was right; Dad was at least a little bit crazy. He'd packed up our perfectly comfortable three-bedroom home in the hood for a six-bedroom McMansion near the white people, only he didn't have enough money left over to furnish the thing. You would swear we were rich if you never set foot past the grand foyer to see the five-dollar pillows where the couch was supposed to be. Not to mention the pot of dried black-eyed peas, cornbread, and mustard in the refrigerator where the food was supposed to be. Lord knows, if I had to eat one more black-eyed pea I was going to slap somebody.
To Dad's credit, we could likely afford more food variety, but last year, Mom lost Taste of Home magazine's black-eyed pea recipe contest, and she'd become obsessed with perfecting it. She used us as her built-in test kitchen. I liked black-eyed peas, but after a few dozen days in a row, they became nauseating. Mostly, Alex and I fended for ourselves in the food department. Hallelujah for the McDonald's dollar menu.
"Toya, I see your door is cracked up there. I know you hear me!" yelled Mom. "I can't be late again, girl. Your daddy's car keeps breaking down on the way to work and making me late. Come on!"
"She's exaggerating, honey," Dad bellowed, attempting to save face. "My car is just fine. Your mother insists on filling her up with regular gas instead of supreme. The Fiat is a classic! Classics deserve nothing less than supreme."
"Man, you crazy! Who in this house has an extra dollar a gallon to pay for your piece of junk to drink gourmet gasoline?"
I honest to God love my parents, but I'd rather die a double-dead, horrible death than turn out anything like them. I've had a bone to pick with those two since I spoke my first word: Toya. How was I supposed to pass for anything but black with a name like Latoya? I asked my mom once if I could change it. I got the paperwork and everything. She told me the name meant the "victorious one" and said no, but when I Googled Latoya, I didn't find any victoriousness, only black women looking like Damn, why did they have to name me Latoya?
"Lord have mercy, Toya! Don't make me come up there!" Mom yelled.
It was time. Time to expose Jesus's blessings and reveal myself. My breathing quickened, and sweaty thighs stuck together at the thought of showing my new white self to my old black family. Peeking through my bedroom door, I saw them all congregated at the bottom of the stairs. Dad spilled coffee and didn't even bother to clean it up. Mom's thumbs fixated on a stubborn blackhead on Alex's bottom lip. "Mom! Stop!" He scrunched his face up, but he loved it. My clueless group of misfits was about to see God's greatest miracle since Lazarus; maybe better. This was my moment, and I went for it.CHAPTER 3
PRESENTING: ME, BUT WHITE
They studied me like a Sudoku puzzle. No one spoke.
Mom broke the silence. "You're such a beautiful girl; I don't know why you wear those ridiculous ribbons on your head. Some girls don't need all of that extra."
"You look pretty, darling." Dad spilled another tablespoon of coffee and swore loudly.
Mom opened her mouth to scold Dad, but Alex interrupted. "We'll knock 'em dead, little sister! You and me, we're gonna be popular. Starting today. Did you do your History homework?" My big brother's biggest desire was to be popular. Second biggest was to make me as smart as him — an uphill battle if there ever was one.
I ran back to the bathroom mirror.
"Where are you going?" Mom shouted after me.
I looked white to me. Was I losing my mind? No, those tendencies didn't develop until your early twenties; I was still a teenager. They came on earlier if you smoked weed, and I wasn't awesome enough to be offered weed, so I had a full four years before the voices started. In a panic, I ran back to the top of the stairs.
"Do I look different to any of you?" I stroked my delicate blond braid with the tips of my fingers.
Dad took a swig of his coffee and choked on the grounds. So gross. "More beautiful every day, my Toya," he coughed.
"Are you feeling okay? You and Alex can take another day if you need to. There's plenty black-eyeds in the fridge." Mom smiled. She had no problem keeping us home for "sick" days. I was usually more than happy to comply.
"Mom, no! We've missed so much school so far, and we still have two months to go. We're going to get kicked out if we keep that up, especially Toya." Alex jerked away from Mom's thumbs.
"Don't exaggerate, Alex!" Mom retorted. "I don't trust that attendance lady of yours. Montgomery white folks older than sixty-five just don't do right. Too much interaction with bigots ain't good for a young person's self-esteem. That's the reason I wish I could homeschool you two in the first place." Mom glared at Dad.
When he caught her stink-eye, coffee shot through his nose. "What?" he asked, plugging his nostril with his knuckle. "You know we can't afford for you to stay home."
As a child, our mother experienced unimaginable racism in the Montgomery education system. Mom was the only black kid in her graduating class, and she was terrorized for it — locker vandalized on a weekly basis, gym clothes frequently stolen, and enough racial slurs to last a lifetime. As a result, she'd dreamed of homeschooling Alex and me since KinderCare. The year before we moved to the empty castle, she typed up a full curriculum and everything. I can't remember most of it, but I do recall her plans to teach from the Bible twice daily. Homeschooling would have been her way of shielding us from Montgomery's notorious prejudice. The empty castle squashed her dreams, and I think that was the real reason she hated it.
"It's not the attendance lady. I've been counting myself, Mom," answered Alex. "And can we please eat something other than black-eyed peas for a change?"
"Absolutely not!" she said, giddy with excitement. "The grand prize is three thousand dollars and a family trip to the Cayman Islands. We eat the black-eyeds until the recipe is perfect."
Dad took another swig of his coffee and looked away.
I began the slow, sad walk down the steps, made my way out the door, and realized that I'd forgotten my book bag. "Warm up the car, I'll be right there. And Alex, you dropped something."
"Oh!" He swooped up a partially opened letter lying by his left Converse tennis shoe. "Thanks, sis."
I marched my heavy feet upstairs. The door creaked open, and there was Jesus standing in the middle of my bedroom. I'm not sure how, but I knew it was him.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," I replied. He was much more personable than you'd think for the Son of God. He reminded me of a cool English teacher.
"Your family cannot see."
"Oh, great idea. That way they can't disown me or make me move out. I get it. You are so smart, Jesus!" I gave him a Jesus-worthy hug, but when I pulled back to look him over, he wasn't smiling. A single bead of sweat crept down his temple. "What's wrong?"
"I've always been quite fond of you, Toya. Have a seat."
"My mom is going to get me if I make her late again," I told him.
He laughed. "Let me worry about your mother."
A few seconds passed before either of us spoke again. I wasn't nervous or anxious like I am when I meet new people, but I wasn't geeking out like the Woman at the Well, either. Was I blowing my opportunity?
"Jesus, am I blowing my opportunity right now?" I asked.
He shifted toward me. "You could never do that."
"Do you do this a lot? You know, hang out with people in their rooms? Turn people white when they ask?"
There was another long pause. He looked to be in deep thought, so I remained silent.
"Toya, listen to me. We chose you for a reason. You are a very special girl." His brow furrowed. "To be honest, my father does not believe that I should be here right now. Nonetheless, I have walked this earth as a human. I understand ridicule. Pain." Another bead of sweat crept down his temple, and he looked so deep into my eyes that I had to look away.
"Look at me," he said.
I lifted my hand to shield my eyes. "Your eyes are too bright."
Excerpted from Into White by Randi Pink. Copyright © 2016 Randi Pink. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Dent in His Jordans,
Presenting: Me, but White,
A Brand-New Toya,
Alexander the Great,
Good-bye, Toya, and Good Riddance,
Good Things Fall Apart All the Time,
Gus Von March Rebooted,
You Can't Have It All,
An Unexpected Journey,
I Just Don't Know Anymore,
Facing the Giants,
The Bad Sister,
Deep-dish Dimple Deanté,
Church on the Mountain,
You're Weird, but I Like You,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Randi Pink’s debut is heartfelt, honest, and sure to be controversial. The characters ring painfully true, from Toya, who must choose whose reality she will honor, to her sweet, smart brother Alex, who tries to dull his own genius to avoid standing out, to the clueless , racial-slur-spewing twins Amera and Amelia, who turn out to be powerless once called on their nonsense. Compelling and compulsively readable, this book is also a brutal, incisive commentary on the role of the media in denigrating black bodies and the mental and emotional damage that systemic racism does to the individual.