by today's Urban Chameleon contributor
So I was kickin’ it with this white girl, an old high school friend right… up in her condo taking a couple shots of Patron and sippin’ a drink before meeting up with some folks and heading out for the night. She was filling me in on the monotony of her accounting gig, dating life and how she can’t find a good brotha (mind you she’s a thick curly-haired Jewish chick who loves passing for Boricua - the appeal of the exotic).
“ I bumped into Tristan the other day on the El.”
“Tristan as in T. Duncan? How you know T?” I asked.
“Come on everyone knows you guys.”
“How you figure?”
“Come on, really? You Tristan, J.P., Marvin, and Keenan, you were like the fab five. I mean… Everyone knows you guys cause you’re Black or whatever.”
Audacious? Nah, just frank, and in fact spot on.
Except she like the rest of them don’t really know me for shit. They might know of me, my name or whatever, my brothers or family but you know what I’m saying.
Anyway, I ain’t heard T’s name in a bit, probably since he escaped in junior high, and yes living out in these neck of the woods, escapin’ still applies i.e., mental captivity. Hearing T’s name and knowing how our journeys varied, I couldn’t help but reflect bout the toll white suburbia takes on a token brotha. Sure a better education is always touted as the allure of these parts, but when eyes are opened one can realize the additional cost.
Charity Case, Mannequin, and Mr. Misunderstood: A “choose your own adventure”, pick your poison, the conditioning or inevitable fork in the road a young Black man struggling to make sense of his own worth will encounter growing up in an area where the only other Black families are those of former Chicago Bull and Bears. No joke. If you know a Black Doctor or Lawyer that’s not your mother or father, then more likely than not your greeting your Aunt or Uncle, or some other relative in pursuit of that Medical, Law, or other graduate degree. Not to mention if you’re taking AP classes it’s likely that the other handful of Black faces that roam the halls won’t be part of your day. See the merits of the ‘burbs might be good in prepping for the ACT/SAT but not so much for a token brotha’s mentality.
But anyway the break down is simple, the only one really thinking bout this is Mr. Misunderstood. The quiet type; he doesn’t really speak much about his circumstance sensing no one in these parts thinks twice bout where he’s coming from, the whole conscious tip, his lens or perspective taking in the facts of black struggle, white flight, and how racial identity is really crucial to one’s life. Mr. Misunderstood tries to make sense of it all but just ain’t at ease in terms of expressing himself. By the time he gets to college he might get caught code-switching, or even called-out for being wet behind the ears or for seeming like such cause the ‘hood don’t know ‘im, they think he’s Bourgeois’ing or sadity, so he walks his own walk as Mr. Misunderstood.
As for Mannequin, he’s in and out of his uniform like he’s in and out of jersey-chasin’, blonde cheerleaders. There ain’t much else to it, that’s all his ego has room for, another trophy to put up on the mantle.
And lastly there’s Charity Case. Though this one has its variations, he basically relies on white folks for everything. Most salient though is the one that would do anything to fit in with his white peers. Grateful Dead or Dave Matthews concert; he’ll be there spazzin’ on that air guitar. If he could have had a Bar Mitzvah, he’d be all over the Torah, then cheesin’ for his pledge class photo at ZBT. Those that support and surround him do so merely out of sympathy.
So think of this as a cautionary tale when you’re ready to settle down and start that family in the suburbs, with the 2-car garage, 2.5 kids, dog and white picket fence. I’d advise not to just set it and forget it, cause it may not be so easy to reproduce that Urban Chameleon who can see the different avenues, knows when or how to wear the mask, shuck and jive, and keep dodgin’ those muggs that try to box him in.
Have your Urban Chameleon story featured by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
click here for: How the Urban Chameleon Came to be