A young savvy teen named Geo forms a conglomerate of suburban black kids.
Why The World Hates Suburban Black Kids
A Short Story by Adam Basnight
We drove through the ghetto searching for the ice cream man. He played kiddie music and slowly rode by the slum houses in hopes to gain attention. When he’d finally stop to make a sale, Sissy and I would hop out the car and race to be next in line with our allowance money balled up in one fist. We each had one ten dollar bill. We got one every month. That’s about all we got. Sure we might’ve lived in a big house, but money was tight. One of the ghetto kid’s mamas pulled out a wad of cash as thick as a double cheeseburger. She passed dollar bills around to her seven kids, and they all danced provocatively around the truck as the ice cream man prepared their cones. I remember watching the girls dance and wanting to touch their bodies. The ghetto girls moved like sex goddesses well before teenage years. I knew the majority white girls I grew up around let loose like they did, but in the suburbs—what was real was always kept secret.
“Whatchu got on?” asked a ghetto boy.
“A shirt,” I said.
“That don’t look name brand.”
“So, what,” I said.
“Well, you ain’t never gonna get a girl like that in that outfit.”
See, we lived around people who masked sex appeal behind sweatpants, work uniforms, and formal spandex for night jogs. Sissy and I were black kids who society associated with the struggle. Black kids were outnumbered in the suburbs, so we were left with a choice. We could either blend in with the hood which wasn’t cheap or form a conglomerate made up of the only real minority in the world: black kids from the suburbs.
“Look at his shoes!” another one laughed.
“These are loafers.”
“The only girl that’s gonna kiss you in loafers is yo’ mamma.”
“It’s the inside that counts,” I said.
“Inside dem loafers?” he laughed.
“No,” I said, “my heart.”
We returned home to find our bikes still loose in the front yard. We chained them up at school, but in our neighborhood appeared no thieves. I was still surprised to see mine intact after I was stared down by the white boy skateboarding pass me from the house three doors down. I was getting the mail that day as part of my chores. See, the white adults in the suburbs could mask their disdain for blacks living as well as they did. The kids and teenagers however, managed their emotions like cats and dogs.
They may have smiled at us sometimes and even played tag football with us in the road. That was only because Sissy played. She was a tomboy who’d much rather be tackled than tagged. They wouldn’t try anything with her though—not with me around. They witnessed me throw a football from the stop sign to the dead end. They knew that same power was packed behind my punch.
“Did you see all that money, Geo?” she asked.
“I’ve never seen our mama hold that much cash,” I said, “or our daddy either.”
“Do you think she’s a prostitute?”
“Not with all those kids looking up to her,” I said.
“I don’t know, Geo,” she said. “The ghetto is no place for anybody, and I think some would do anything to get out—or at least survive it.”
“Looks like fun to me.”
“It’s all fun and games until somebody gets shot,” she said.
“You don’t think the white man next door feels threatened by us,” I asked, “and wouldn’t get a gun license just so he could fake smile at us to make us feel safe? At least they know they’re in danger in the ghettos. Don’t you see, Sissy?! We’re the real ones at risk not the ghetto kids.”
We rode our bikes around the neighborhood that night as part of our weekend routine. The street lights usually kept us going until we got tired. That night however, three of them were out. We parked by one left on and counted the change left over from the ice cream. The night was darker than usual and so was the world’s view of kids like us. The ghetto boys and girls were the chosen ones. Too many cold hearts were cultivated in the ghetto, and this here—is a cold world.
“Quick,” I whispered, “hide it!”
“Turn around, young man,” commanded the new school security officer, “and place your hands at your lower back!”
“You’re not even a real cop,” said Jon-Wise, a fellow suburban black kid with large buck teeth and a unique habit of always speaking the truth.
“But I have these!”
“Who are you going to cuff first?”
“Me,” I said, and turned around like he told me to.
“What happened, Geo?” asked Sissy, rushing over with an open textbook and pencil in her ponytail.
“Mama’s wine,” I told her.
I commended the officer for a job well done. It was obvious that he was watching us the whole time because he named the flavor and exact alcohol content on the radio all before checking my bag. This wasn’t because we were from the suburbs. It was because we were young black boys. The ride to the precinct was filled with laughter and a conversation that only men have. This was aside from John-Wise mentioning Juvenile Hall at every red light. The officer respected us because he assumed we were like the majority black kids. When we arrived at the precinct, John-Wise and I were greeted with eye contact from the real criminals. They ignored my loafers and made room for us in the holding cell as if we were one them.
“What set you rep, youngster?”
“He one of those conservative gangsters,” another cellmate said, “You can tell by his shoes.”
“I ain’t no gangster.”
“What hood you from then, youngster?”
“South side,” I said.
“Yea,” I lied again.
If they only knew we were more like the white cops then them. We were black kids who knew as much about the street life as a newborn ghetto boy. By the time that baby was five, he knew not to snitch and that grams were made up of ounces. Ounces were made up of pounds which translated into dollars no matter the drug. He was nearly a man because knowing how to keep his mouth shut and the importance of money was half of the journey.
“They sell a lot of dope on the south side,” he laughed, “don’t they?”
“If you never sold dope,” said another cellmate, “then I know you tried some ‘cause you just as cool as a broke pimp in a strip joint who knows he gotta’ do some serious sweet talkin’ to get the ladies onboard. He’s desperate but he don’t show it.”
“I ain’t never smoked or sold drugs,” I said.
“I stole my momma’s wine.”
“So, you’re a thief,” he said.
“Only when I want a good time, sir.”
“The only way to have fun is to have money,” he said.
“I’m only fifteen.”
“I started hustlin’ when I was twelve,” he told me, “and what made me the best dealer on my block was one thing… connections.”
“He can make you some real money,” said the other cellmate, “right, O.G.?”
“No, original gangster,” he said, and asked for my loafer. The O.G. carved an address on the bottom with a copper coin.
“Alright, young men,” shouted the white cop, “you’re free to go!”
“No juvi?” asked John-Wise, yawning after a nap on the cold cellar floor.
“Where are our parents?”
“The ghetto is not too far from here,” said the white cop, “so we figured you two can walk home. Your parents don’t even have to know. Tell them you had a special assignment off school grounds at the museum or something.”
“But we don’t live in the—”
“Shhh,” I told John-Wise.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, officer,” I said, “he’s still waking up and finding it hard to listen, but I’ll explain to him everything you said on our walk home.”
We ate fast food that night at Big Burgers. It was cheap, and our fridge at home was missing coils. John-Wise wanted to join us, but I was afraid he’d tell the truth. Mama bought my story about the museum even after I came home well in the evening. John-Wise and I had begged our way on the city buses and still had to walk the busy bridges to get to our side of town. I told Sissy what really happened at the precinct in private but left out the out writing on my shoe. She understood that I lied to survive. I was only in the holding cell for a couple hours, but we’d later find out—that life can seem shorter.
“Did we pay the mortgage?” asked Mama.
“Yes,” said Daddy.
“The water bill is due,” Mama said, “and we still need to get that refrigerator fixed before all that spoiled food starts smelling.”
“Please,” he said,” not in front of the kids.”
“I’m a man now.”
“You got a job?” asked Daddy.
“You pay bills?”
“No,” I said, “but is that all it takes to be a man?”
“Don’t get smart with me, boy.”
“We’re under a lot of pressure, Geo,” Mama said, “to try to raise you two and keep a nice roof over your head.”
“Why don’t we just move to the ghetto?”
“So, you can end up as some thug!?”
“To save money,” I said, and Daddy smacked me like that pimp—my cellmate was talking about—would do his women onboard. I got up from the table unfazed and checked my face for whelps in the bathroom. Sissy followed behind me calling my name out and furthered my embarrassment.
“Get out of here,” I said, “this is the men’s room.”
“So, you get arrested, and now you feel like a man?”
“You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“I am,” she said,”I mean you sure took that hit like one. A better man would’ve hit him back, but I know that’s your father.”
“I got a plan, Sissy,” I said, “Mama ain’t going to have to worry no more!”
“Let’s rob a bank!”
“I’m serious,” I told her, “and this idea is better anyway.”
“What makes it better?”
“Connections,” I said.
To change the world’s view of kids like us seemed impossible at first. The suburbs were for whites, and the ghettos were for blacks. We were considered lame and lacked a white privilege that even whites from the ghetto preserved. There was one privilege suburban black kids had that seemed like no privilege at all. That was being the underdog from a social standpoint. That’s what made the O.G.’s “connections” vital to changing the world’s view from hate to respect—or maybe even love. Economics don’t mean much when a pure hustler from the ghetto can talk his way out of turmoil to total success. The social underdogs however, are ignored which means that our intentions and schemes to secure our ambitions are underestimated. Society encourages the ghetto kids and privileged whites to pursue the toughest projects and achievements while we remain outcasts devising a real master plan. A plan which may never be executed because we lack an emotional back story or money to spare. The only one thing that could make a suburban black kid’s plan work—is “connections.”
“Wake up,” said Sissy, “we got a surprise for you.”
“It’s one o’clock in the morning.” I said.
I grabbed a T-shirt off the floor and slid in my tan boots with the strings loose. Sissy opened the front door and there John-Wise stood among two others.
“This is Tori Token and Mars,” he said.
“Real people,” said Mars.
“If we’re going to be a gang,” said John-Wise, “our names gotta be code like real gangsters.”
I remembered what the O.G. told me in the cell.
“Real gangsters are either dead, dying soon, in jail, or coming out of jail with the likelihood of going right back in,” I said. “We’re more of a team.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Trophies,” I said.
I look up to the ghetto kids and think myself to be one at heart, but the truth is that I didn’t know what a “block” was until a white ghetto teen skipped me in line for the ice cream truck. She claimed not only was she a female and that ladies should go first but that she had every right because I was standing on her block. I think she liked me and just wanted my attention. I honor white privilege however, that wasn’t the reason I didn’t argue my stance. I thought she was fine, too, and would’ve pulled her close for a long kiss but wasn’t sure how willing she was to risk getting her white privilege revoked on my behalf. Some whites disapproved of us blacks. She could’ve been my personal trophy not because she was white but because the way she looked at me. No matter how reticent I may have been, the connection was irony.