The day Eunice finally embraced black culture, other things changed too. There had been a resurgence of interest in Malcolm X among youth, fueled by the use of his iconic image by hip-hop acts like Public Enemy, Wu-Tang and Jay Z. Malcolm X’s image hung in student lockers and adorned T-shirts and jean jackets of hip students.
Eunice was unapologetic about sun tanning as much as the pop culture obsessed beach bunnies did. With a dark tan her father’s Johnston heritage came in more prominently reminiscent of Halle Berry from Jungle Fever.
To get the popular vote at school she got mileage from stories of her parents’ well-known visitors like Aunt Elaine [Brown] and Aunt Kathy [Cleaver] each of Panther notoriety. Or Eunice would embellish some of her own, “Martin Luther King Jr. has been to our house on Columbia Street,” she’d brag. “Okay, so it was before my folks lived there but he’s been there!”
“You’re Daddy knew MLK? Did you ever get to meet him?” Terrence asked, he was even cuter with bright eyed earnestness.
“Well no Terrence, I wasn’t born yet,” she said deadpan. “Daddy worked a bunch of gigs as a security guard in Harlem just before Malcolm X was killed. I never met him either,” she also figured he’d mixed Malcolm with MLK.
“Duh I knew that!” he said.
Unbeknownst to Curtis, his popularity was on the rise. She had found an untapped niche with boys from different grades wanting to hear stories about her father. Maybe she’d ask him to do a guest spot at the school’s general assembly!
Gaining acceptance from someone like Terrence and his crew was huge and eventually brought the trendy fly girls around too. Gabrielle stood out as having the most spunk. She remembered her as untouchable back on the first day of high school.
Gabrielle was a hip hop princess every guy wanted hanging on the back of his moped. She charmed her way through life as a vixen rebel with her leather hat and a revealing camisole tops. She was living proof beauty broke through the race barrier.
“Girl don’t listen to Terrence, he failed history!” Gabrielle said to Eunice, “He’s probably sweet on you because you’re easy on the eyes like a pale Bambi girl and I don’t mean a deer caught in headlights!” she looked back at her girlfriends who laughed and averted Eunice’s eyes.
Eunice suspected ridicule.
“I’ll have to take that as a compliment!” Eunice exaggerated. She thought of her mother as a Harlem fish out of water. Why not just speak the truth!
“I like how you sassed Miss Jones. She looked pissed!” Gabrielle smiled. “Eunice girl, you can’t play a player. You know full well you’re a hot tomale, right Arisbel?” Gabrielle said.
Eunice was used to hiding inside her tomboy phase and had never embraced her looks. Her goal was always invisible camouflage. She never thought any clique would want her membership.
“Stop it. I’m plain and free of zits so I look clean is all but okay I’ll take it! Thanks,” Eunice said. She felt a jolt of excitement rushing up her spine as if someone had remembered her birthday.
“Gabby’s pretty good at cartwheel’s. I seen her in gymnastics,” Arisbel said, acting completely different around probably the most popular girl in their grade.
“Are you taking gym this term? I hate it on Mondays. I can’t do a cartwheel to save my life. I used to. I think I pulled my pelvis or something,” Gabrielle said.
“I still do em pretty easy but I imagine all girls stop doing cartwheels after their period. Womanhood doesn’t include flipping your head upside down,” Eunice said.
The girls all laughed.
“I did gymnastics in grade 6. Springboard first then aced that double bar thingymajig,” Juliet said.
“You went to Nixon right? Now that’s Wonder bread!” Gabrielle said, sarcastically.
“I played down my acrobatic talents there. Those girls didn’t understand me. They thought I was Latin. When I told them my father was black they stopped talking to me. That’s when things got wicked,” Eunice said.
“HAHA. Well that’s child’s play. They probably were jealous of course. It always boils down to envy and jealousy right girls?” Gabrielle said.
“You said it, Gab!” Sheena, a quieter girl said.
Eunice laughed. She didn’t want talking to Gabrielle and the girls to end. Her head felt like she had sipped Daddy’s beer.
“I’m cutting gym today!” Gabrielle said.
“How do you cut?” Eunice asked.
“It’s a cakewalk, you bring on your girly girl act,” Gabrielle said. She started re-enacting in a Jessica Rabbit voice presumably used to cut class, “Carl, my calves are still killing me from the hay bailing my daddy had me doing. I sure wish I had two brothers instead of sisters,” she said.
They all burst out laughing.
“You don’t really do that, do you?” Eunice asked.
“Naw. I call home and get my mother to call the school secretary. Totally legit!” Gabrielle said, unclear whether it was true or all talk.
“It’s funny you said cake walk. My aunt told me cake walk was a secret word used when slaves performed at plantation masters parties. They would dress fancy, sing and strut but all the while compete with each other to see who was the best master mimic! Imagine like us doing Mr. Osborne impressions then voting on the best one? Afterwards the winner got cake, thus it’s a cake walk,” Eunice said.
“Oh my God that’s hilarious! It’s like the origin of disrespecting someone!” Juliet said.
“…the best part was white folks didn’t have a clue,” Eunice said.
“I betcha some of them figured it out. I bet the smart mixed women figured it out,” Gabrielle said, playing to her audience of friends who all laughed.
Eunice was embarrassed. It felt like she and Gabrielle had been sparring. She visualized Angela’s face. What would she do? She’d ignore it completely.
“Yeah, what exactly did those ladies do? I’m sure some of them were none too pleased to own slaves,” Sheena said.
“Those poor women. They had to keep their figures then have babies. Once they were done with that it didn’t matter if they got fat and ugly. No one cared. You’re not obsessed with your weight are you Eunice?” Gabrielle asked, rhetorically. “Wendy Jackson is the biggest flip flopper! She starves herself to keep Lance interested. Last month I asked her, ‘how’s the diet going Wendy?’ as emergency personnel wheeled her by on a stretcher,” Gabrielle smacked her gum as she spoke.
“You’re awful!” Eunice said. Whether she believed in her point of view or not, Gabrielle was charismatic and not afraid of anything.
“Is Wendy okay?” Arisbel asked.
“I’m fine. I just eat my feelings!” Sheena said, who was likely not humoring them as she took a bite from her bagel cream cheese.
“You are a good person Eunice,” Gabrielle said, cupping a hand over hers. She held an intense Cleopatra stare.
Perhaps since Eunice didn’t question her dis she’d got respect and earned her stripes in Gabrielle’s circle.
Before Eunice ever heard the phrase purple black, blue black, midnight, ape or monkey, spewed from the mouths of brats at the mall, she had already heard them from the kids on her street. Most of the boys had names bred into them by older siblings. They used the venomous adjectives on each other frequently to remove their power and thicken their skin to face the outside world.
Eunice dreamed of being called those names all her life. Since forever she wished she was as dark as Daddy or Angela or Gabrielle. She was often delighted when privy to the subtle racist comments said around her, proving she was accepted on some level.
Whenever a white person said something derogatory to her, intentionally or not, Eunice wanted to smash their face in. Then she wanted to deal out an 8x10 glossy picture of her father. Why did people think they could get away with their racist bullshit? Was her lighter skin an excuse for bigots to investigate her roots and be idiots in the process? Why was it an excuse? Why couldn’t she fit in? Why couldn’t it be like Tolkien’s middle fucking earth where nobody understood or cared to ask.
Gabrielle, the girl who had everything envied her free ride, “You’re so lucky Eunice! You get to be mysterious. You can do anything and go anywhere! No one is questioning my ethnicity. I’m clearly a black woman. Of course I will doing anything and go anywhere anyways,” she stared with hands on hips.
Later at home in her bedroom, Eunice was riding high on acceptance as she examined her face in the mirror. She found herself plain compared to other girls but Gabrielle had said she was a hot tomale. She’d never been called that before.
She guessed her facial symmetry was alright; her eyes, nose and mouth seemed to be in the right places. If she focused specifically on mother’s thinner European nose she could see the white side of her family, then if she squinted, she saw Daddy’s chocolate eyes and full lips from her black side She touched the freckles on her upper cheek and realized they probably threw people off. Her final appraisal was she was a pretty girl. Gabrielle was right. She was blessed in uniqueness!
Why did that thought make her feel sick in her belly?
Something about blending into crowds with decent looks was a gift to keep her out of trouble. The flip side was in her chameleon state she was a key eyewitness to the pain of watching others treated badly. She would never ever consciously try to pass for white like she’d seen on Oprah.