We're Going to Need More Wine - Gabrielle Union Page 0,1

doing it anyway.



It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

—W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

When I was in the second grade, my parents moved us from Omaha, Nebraska, to Pleasanton, California. My parents had spent a year living in San Francisco just after they got married, and my arts-loving mother had lived for the city’s culture and open spirit. So when my father announced he was getting transferred to go back to the Bay Area, she rejoiced. My mother pushed for Oakland, where we would be around other black families and still close to all that San Francisco had to offer. But my father, obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses, had bigger plans. He had a white work friend who had moved to Pleasanton, a half-hour drive and a world away from Oakland. “If it’s good enough for Dave,” he said, “it’s good enough for us.”

In Omaha, we were part of the largest African American extended family in Nebraska. In Pleasanton, we would be the chocolate chip in the cookie. My mother didn’t want that for her daughters—me, my older sister, Kelly, and my younger sister, Tracy. Well, she lost that battle. Everything she feared came to pass.

The residents of Pleasanton divided themselves into housing developments. And where you lived said everything about who you were. We bought a house in Val Vista, which was working middle class with upper-middle-class goals. Val Vista was considered just below Valley Trails in the Pleasanton development caste system. But neither of those neighborhoods was nearly as good as the Meadows, across town, where they had green belts that connected all the cul-de-sacs and the streets. When you told someone where you lived, it was shorthand for the truth of your family’s economic situation: good, average, or untouchable.

Since birth my family has called me Nickie, from my middle name, Monique. It took a little less than a year in Pleasanton for someone to call me nigger. It was during third-grade recess at Fairlands Elementary, and it came from Lucas. He was one of the Latino kids bused in from Commodorsky, the low-income housing development. He rode with Carmen, Lori, and Gabriel, or, as everyone called them, the Commodorsky kids. One day, Lucas decided my name made for great racist alliteration.

“Nickie’s a nigger!” he said, pointing at me with a huge smile of revelation, like he’d found me in a game of hide and seek. For one day to my face, and who knows how many days behind my back, “Nigger Nickie” caught on like wildfire. The kids chanted it, trying on the word as a threat (“Nigger!”) and a question (“Nigger?”), and then as singsong: “Nig-ger Nic-kie. Nig-ger Nic-kie.”

I couldn’t afford to stand out like that ever again. So I became obsessed with observing the Commodorsky kids, clocking all the shit they did that everyone—meaning the white ones—made fun of. I wanted to be the exact opposite. And I was clocking the white kids, too, of course. I looked at them and thought, That’s where I’m going to. And when I saw the Commodorsky kids, all I could think was, That’s where I’m running from.

With every single move I made and every word I spoke, I stayed hyperalert to what I called the Black Pitfalls. What were the things that would make me appear blacker? I only ate chicken with a knife and fork, and never in front of white people. Certainly not KFC. And no fruit on a rind. You were not gonna see a toothy-grin-and-watermelon scene from me.

I had been warned, of course. My parents gave me the pep talk when I started school, the same speech all black parents give their kids: You’re gonna have to be bigger, badder, better, just to be considered equal. You’re gonna have to do twice as much work and you’re not going to get any credit for your accomplishments or for overcoming adversity. Most black people grow accustomed to the fact that we have to excel just to be seen as existing, and this is a lesson passed down from generation to generation. You