This is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled "Black Girl in a White Suburb"

It will either be in a solo show, book of essays or memoir...

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My grade school St. John of the Cross gained fame far and wide for its annual all-school performances. No, it didn't. Still, every year it happened. It was the one time of year all the grades came together to showcase our Wildcat pride through song and dance.

It was not a talent show. That didn't happen until seventh grade when my friend Mary sang a version of "You made me love you" Instead of "Dear Mr. Gable" we switched out ole boy for E.T. 

It went like this: 

Dear Mr. E.T.,

I am writing this to you and I hope that you will read so you'll know.

Our hearts beat like a hammer and we stutter and we stammer every time we see you at the picture show.

I'm just another fan of yours but I thought I'd write and tell you so-ooo.

You made me love you.

I didn't want to do it.

I didn't want to do it...

Give me, give me, give me, give me, all I cried for.

You know you got the brand of REESES that I die for.

You know you made me looooooooove youuuuuu.

We were a hit and I solidified my rep as the kid who was gonna be an actress; maybe even a star.  

In 5th grader, the all-school production was called "How the West Was Won". It was also a seventies television show starring Bruce Boxleitner. Bruce was once married to America's favorite pilgrim Laura Ingalls aka Melissa Gilbert for 16 years. Melissa Gilbert is currently married to Timothy Busfield of Thirty Something, West Wing, Field of Dreams and The Revenge of the Nerds. (I know, you can't get this kind of trivia anywhere.)

Our production was not based on the TV show. Our production was a story-theater account of "How the West was Won". The story chronicled the Westward migration from about 1839 to 1889.

Shrug emoji.

This show featured a great deal of choral singing and line dancing; the most efficient way to get a bunch of clumsy grade school kids to dance in sync. 

In addition to the choral singing there was one coveted solo.

A Native American character sang:

The white man is coming.

With iron horse and track.

To carry the warriors away. 

I lift up my eye to the top of the suuuuuun. 

I don’t remember the rest of the song. Perhaps I’ve blocked it out. Trauma doesn’t always have to happen "directly" to you. One can experience "trauma adjacent". This is an official term I have just made up but stay with me and I’ll prove its relevance.

You see there were no Native American students at St. John of the Cross. None. So, who sang the solo? I'm happy to report the school spent the money to have a local Native American woman come and sing the song.

No, no they didn't.

There was a fleeting moment where I thought they might give me the solo since I wasn’t white. Would that have been a good choice? No. My desire to perform was already percolating. My ambition blinded me. Of course, you can’t just swap out a Haitian-American girl for a Native American girl. It would defy the very purpose of everything infinitum. It's BIPOC; Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Amirite?

They didn't cast me.


They cast.

A WHITE girl.

A WHITE girl with the fairest skin, blondest hair and bluest eyes ever.

Her name was Martha. She was in fifth grade too.

Martha sang beautifully. That was not the point. The director cast her over 7th and 8th graders. It was kinda a big deal. Martha gained the status of a deity amongst the students, faculty and staff. Every time she sang everyone, including me stopped what they were doing and listened. I swear adults had tears in their eyes. Dogs across the neighborhood howled.

“The white man was coming. To carry. The warriors. Away.” 

This was super fucked up for a 10 year old Black girl to witness. Like I said, “trauma adjacent”. Come to think of it "trauma directly"is more accurate. Not only did I learn to collectively revere a white girl. I learned to revere a white girl's tears. I don’t care that she was "playing" a Native American. She was a white girl. I learned that a white girl’s tears can stop the world from turning on its axis. I learned that a white girl’s tears could make grown men cry. White girl’s pain was the most important above and most of all. In my entire life I would never be able to cry a white girl’s tears.

It took me years to understand that a Black girl's tears matter, too. 

What do you think?

  • solo show

  • book of essays

  • memoir

Share your thoughts in the comments!