Do Black Children Scare You?

by

01/30/2004

3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

Neighborhood: Harlem

I sit in a tree with pen and paper in hand, planning to writing a letter. The branches under me are smooth and rough in patches, warped like an elephant’s trunk. The shade of the tree, the cool breeze and warm sun make me feel good, and calm, and in control.

An elderly man stands some ways off, smoking a pipe as his little cinnamon haired grandson wanders around the park grass, hunting for unseen treasures which, now and then, he would find. It would be a flower, a leaf, a rock. Six of seven times he would shake his curls, then scamper back with the treasure, saying, “Look, Grandpa! Look what I got for you.” The man would nod, take the pipe out of his mouth, then grasp the flower/leaf/rock out of the boy’s brown fingers. “Very nice, very nice.” The boy would then toddle of in search of more.

My letter: Jake, what do I say to you? What can I say to you? Apperently we don’t know each other as well as we thought we did. You were not the “new man” that I took you for. I might not be the woman you think I am. Despite your liberal upbringing and feminist support, I guess deep down there are some things that never change.

The boy walks a little farther from the grandfather now, and walks closer to my tree.

An argument. A stupid argument about, of all things, this school. It began as a smooth conversation about classes, and work. I mentioned my old friend from Boston. She had called the night before, telling me that she was planning to visit New York for the first time and asked me where I lived. I said Harlem.

No, you interupted me. This is not Harlem. Morningside Heights, not Harlem. This place is above 100th Street. It’s technically Harlem. The school paid a lot of money to change the area’s name. Morningside Heights. Even so, it’s Harlem.

“No, it’s not.”

“Why are you so against calling it Harlem?”

You looked guilty and said, “Black people scare me. “

“Hello,” says the boy as he grabs a branch and swings on it.

“Hello. Is this your tree?”

“Uh huh,” he nods.

Black people scare you.

The boy gets a better hold on the branch and swings his leg over it, prepared to climb. Jake, would this boy scare you? This small boy with curls in his hair. Would this boy scare you? I drop my paper and pen to the ground to help the boy stand on the branch and grab hold of the next.

The grandfather gives a cry and walks over this way. Would this old man scare you? He’s old enough to have been a Panther when he was young. “Thanks, thanks,” he says as I sit back down and he takes over supporting the boy who climbs up.

What if I told you I was half-black? Would I scare you? Feminists you can deal with. What about black feminists? bell hooks and Alice Walker. What would you do if met Alice Walker in the street? Would you duck and run away? Not embrace the womanist, mostly likely the one who understands men and would embrace men? Would you ever again embrace me?

The boy reaches the top most branches that can hold him. The grandfather picks him up in his arms, says “let’s go home,” and begins to walk away. “Bye bye,” says the boy. “Thanks again,” says the man.

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