The 'Honorable Mention' submission to our Summer 2023 National Teen Storyteller Contest. We invited young writers to share a story responding to the theme of Stereotypes. This contest is part of our 2023 NEA Big Read initiative, made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in celebration of Charles Yu's novel, Interior Chinatown.
i remember this time when i was a little smaller than 10, going out shopping, and getting tired as nine year olds tend to do. i already had a bag from earlier escapades, maybe groceries from a different store, i forget, but this bag was gargantuan. it was half of my body weight and i set it down next to the aisle, right before the cashier. i rested for a cool two seconds and the moment the bag was lifted, the eyes of the cashier shifted from light to dark brown with accusation. since that dumb heavy bag leaned against an aisle and i just so happened to stand there, an invisible item had just fallen in that bag, and turned me into one of those, one of the bad ones, i became black. i defended my innocence as well as i could at nine and was let go with the skin color curse, that raised eyebrow.
since then i’ve grown tired of the raised eyebrow following me, plastered on all types of faces. being too loud on public transportation, talking ghetto outside, just walking around in stores and parks. even when my mouth isn’t running a million miles a minute i still get that raised eyebrow, but now i read a book, now i listen to musical theater, not rap, could never get into it, now i go to a school where only half of me exists. i left the other half with the people i left behind, resigned to their fates, as i never looked back, knowing they’ll be fine but finding guilt somewhere deep. I can’t feel too bad though, since stepping ahead means more shifty eyes and raised eyebrows, cause i can lose myself but never my complexion.
angela means exactly what it sounds like, angel, a name out of love but also a shield, if you saw my name on a job application, you would have no preconceived notions about me, unlike my cousin akua, for this i thank my parents endlessly. names can take you from the white passing suburban neighbor to the crackhead who you share a skin tone with. my name is a parting gift to whichever mouth it leaves from, so i use it to dig gold. i live by the snow bunnies and make them into daily rituals. it doesn’t bother me how mayo fathers stare and cauliflower mommies arch their lips in disgust, as i walk away their son’s heart and pocket. i don’t care how my people talk about people like me, traitors to their race, money seeking girls, in a less than kind way. i know but i fail to see how white women tears can stop me from getting my bag.
Please understand that I can never turn it off. The Blackness is the first thing you see and hear, that is my prison and paradise. All expectations, my volume level, my art, my music, my mind, the people i keep around, my soul, my features, my heart, throw them out. I am whole, make me not your gold digger, your african princess, your hood rat, nah make me new, I will be nothing until I speak, nothing until you know me, make me black in darkness and in light, we real cool.