Single-Minded: When the Weapon of Choice Is a Snarl
There's something funny that happens to black girls on the way to puberty. More often than not, their smile is a casualty.
There's a guy who lives on my corner I call Homeless Jesus. He talks with a slur and every day advises me to "smile more," regardless of the fact that I thought I was smiling. And I mean actually smiling, like with my mouth and with my eyes. But none of that matters to Homeless Jesus, because according to my street therapist, black girls as a monolith simply don't smile enough. They're non-smilers -- even when they are.
See, there's something funny that happens to black girls on their way to puberty.
The first time I called another girl a bitch, I was 12. Her name was Natalia, and she was the first person I met who cursed without looking over her shoulder, blurting out the word f*** on the playground like someone taught her how. She never smiled. Instead she wore a casually practiced smirk that seemed to say, Nothing you're saying matters.
Natalia got her hair cut at the salon where my mom and I lived (in the two rooms in the back). Her hair had an asymmetric shape that made her look like a teenager, despite the fact that, like me, she still wore a useless training bra. She was, like, the coolest girl in sixth grade, and I wanted to be friends. Figuring the best way to go about that would be by insulting her in front of the girls, when someone asked me what I thought of Natalia, I said, "She's a total bitch," my voice shaking only slightly.
Of course, word got back to Natalia about my nerd attempt at being the bad girl in front of the girls. You know the ones: They had secret sleepovers they forgot to tell you about on Friday but had no problem remembering the details of by Monday. But instead of being pissed, Natalia was sort of proud. "Well, I guess I am," she said, and instead of slapping me across the face, she slapped me on the back. I was in.
Before then, I'd been operating solely on the periphery of coolness since starting at Catalina Public School, the local public school. My mom thought I'd had enough of the heterosexual propaganda perpetuated by the Avalon Christian Academy, the one-room, little red schoolhouse at which I'd spent my most formative years.
After a month with "the normal kids" at Catalina, I figured that cool and Christ didn't mix. I'd have to start cursing and stop caring if I ever wanted to be friends with Natalia and perhaps get kissed by Justin Ramirez -- if I was lucky. So when I called that clearly damaged girl a bitch in 1992, I was doing it less because I thought it true and more because I thought it necessary. Inviting her over to play with the new black Barbie my mom had bought me wasn't going to do it.