Four little girls

On the A Train this afternoon, four Black girls are cutting school. (“Why we pick the coldest day to cut, son?” “Son, this is the last time I’m cutting!”)

One girl is light skinned. She has dry, pressed shoulder-length hair with aging twistrows at the crown. The other three are dark with short, growing-out perms and vinyl hairpieces glued at the bang.

All four are discussing how great it would be to be white.

Because white people have bread, son. And son, they have pretty eyes and long hair. They live in Miami and cake up. White people have a lot of cats though, and they stink. But son, they have pretty, long hair, like these ones standing in front of us. Black girls have short hair. It’s not fair. We’re stuck with short hair.

“I have long hair and I’m not white,” the light skinned one offers.

One of her dark friends–the loudest, bustiest of the quartet—retorts, “Bitch, you ain’t all Black! You know you got something in you, some Indian or Puerto Rican.”

All four laugh.

Soon the conversation turns to shape—how the light-skinned one is real skinny.

“Skinny bitch,” says the loud one. “Skinny bitch, you need to eat more chicken and more McDonalds.”

“Niggas like thick girls with guts,” another adds.

“Come get this gut, nigga!” the loud one screams theatrically. Her tummy is peeking out of the bottom of her shrunken T-shirt. It says, “Single and ready to mingle.”

The light skinned one plays it off: “So what if I’m skinny? I’m skinny because I’m a virgin.”

“NOT!” her friends scream in unison.

“Well to my mother I am a virgin,” she quips.

All four laugh.

After awhile, the light one stands up to stretch. One of her girls points at her crotch and claims to see a period stain. She’s being cruel; there’s no scarlet. But she won’t quit: “I’m telling you this because I care. You either have your period on your pants or you sat in something red.”

Stricken, the light  one extends her waistband and peers down at her crotch. “I knew it. I knew I didn’t have my period on my pants,” she says quietly.

She sits back down and her arm brushes against mine. Several moments later she turns to me.


“For what?” I ask.

“I touched you and I’m sorry.”

I right my eyes and put on the most neutral smile I can muster. “It’s OK. It was just a soft touch.”

I know I owed her more. But I didn’t know what to give.



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7 responses to “Four little girls

  1. Wow. I have had so many experiences like this. Particularly down south. It’s why we do this work. It’s just so sad when you’re in the moment, bc what she needed would have taken you more than a few train stops.

    You know this gives me an idea. Hmmm.

  2. Jeannine

    This is almost my everyday, more so when I worked in the high schools. Now that I work in an elementary school the girls seem a little less damaged. I guess we’re just catching them a little earlier, and doing what we can. So much more than teaching them to read and write (at which we are minimally successful).

  3. Laura

    I’ve started hearing more conversations like this from young people and it makes me really nervous. I don’t remember talking like this, or hearing other people talk like this when I was that age. And I had to give some of my students a lecture when we were snowboarding and two of the boys started talking about how we have to lock our boards up because now more black people snowboard, and black people steal. They said if it was all white people it would be ok, because white people are rich so they don’t have to steal. What can we do???

    • smallmediumlarge

      @Laura: What you did. Don’t let that kind of casual “joke” go. Explain in clear, true terms why it’s problematic. And thank God you were in a structured environment. On the each-one-teach-one tip, this is the solution. It won’t address the whole, but it can change a few.

  4. Bridgette

    Thank you for sharing and being so vivid and honest. I try to do what I can, when I can but when I have experiences like this of my own on the subway, on the block…wherever — what I do never seems like it is enough. What can anyone do that is “enough”?

  5. Carla Murphy

    One, at the end of your post, a specific action came to mind. The end of Jungle Fever, when Flipper’s walking down the block and (yet another) random crackhead, who’s also a young girl, offers some sexual favor and he just hugs her and screams. Reminds me of your conclusion, But I didn’t know what to give.

    Two, Four little girls. Nuff said, homey.

  6. Um, so I’m never without words. But, right now, I am. So I’ll just sit here and try not to cry. Thanks.

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