That’s what my father did just before my first “girl-boy party.”
We lived in a majority White suburb (the setting for my “n***** story” that I related here), and I was turning 13 years old. I was going to have a birthday party—a real party in our apartment complex’s clubhouse. The music was to be provided by my uncle and his band. They were an extremely talented bunch that included his then girlfriend (or wife…the relationship is still unclear to me to this day) who reminded me of Chaka Khan. In fact, the band was Rufus-like, in that they could handle anything from Ohio Players to Yes.
I do not know how it came to be…what (if anything specific) instigated my father’s actions. But at some point my father left the clubhouse and began walking throughout the neighborhood, looking for Black teen-aged boys who were hanging out in order to invite them to the party. One thing is for sure: Without the addition of the few Black boys who decided to check it out, I would have had no Black male presence at my first mixed gender, teen party.
Recently the topic of this party and my father’s action came up during one of my family’s marathon story-telling sessions. I need to backtrack a little and explain something about the Scribe kinship line: We are a family of storytellers. But we do not just tell any old tales. We are tellers of tall tales. We have been known to stretch the truth a little if it will make for a better story. I have a term for this tendency: jeweling the elephant. Actually, that is not my term, but from one of the characters in Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener. Some of us in my family are bigger elephant jewelers than others; my father—the elder of our clan—is the biggest jeweler of us all.
In my father’s version of my 13-year birthday party, he saw all of us new teenagers—all White except for his eldest daughter (me)—just standing around, segregated by sex, merely listening to all this incredible music played by a real live band. The party was going to be a dud. His daughter’s initiation into teenhood was going to be a colossal failure. She would not even have her first teen dance because none of the White boys present would ask her to dance. (Not that she—with her limited social skills—would have danced if asked or, goodness forbid, initiate asking someone herself.)
But a moment before this fate could be forever sealed, my father dashes out of the clubhouse in search of life support for my rapidly flat-lining party. Moments later he re-enters the party, leading a line of be-bopping, ultra-hip Black boys like some sort of pied piper of adolescent males. The rest of us loosen up, pair up, and begin to jam—the be-bopping ultra-hip Black boys teaching us the latest dance steps from Gary and Hammond and East Chicago. I have my first dance—including my first slow dance—with a shy, but adorable Black kid who was in town from down South visiting his cousin. I am saved a certain social death, and become the talk of the suburban junior high school!
OK. Actually, that is not my father’s version. (I said my father was the master of jeweling the elephant, but his firstborn is a close second place.) What really happened was not quite as dramatic as all that. But the gist of the tale is true to reality. And my father actually did go outside, walk around the apartment complex, and at some later time a group of random Black boys did show up at the door who he had seen in the neighborhood and invited.
How much things have changed. Never mind that if my father did something like that today, the boys would probably head straight to the police. A strange adult man out inviting young men to come over to the clubhouse for a party? They would have had the film crew from “To Catch a Predator” on their cell phones as soon as my father turned his back.
I wonder, though…would my father even do the same thing today, more than 30 years later—say, with his granddaughters (my daughters)? Would he do the same thing in reverse with my teenage brothers who have also grown up in a majority-White suburb? My daughters are not even in double digits yet. But what do other Black parents of Black teens do today under similar circumstances?
If I had my wits about me—and any small bit of entrepreneurial sense—I would start a business with this kind of situation in mind. It would kind of be like an employment temp agency. I would have groups of Black boys and girls who could be hired by parents to attend the social functions of Black teens being raised in majority White neighborhoods. Eventually, of course, the word would get around and White parents would employ my rental Black teens for their kids’ parties, to give the gatherings that extra cool factor. I could even expand the business to include adolescents of other ethnicities… But I’d start my business model with Black families.
Afterall. What else do you get the privileged Black teenager living in the exclusive cul de sac who has everything? Black friends, of course.
But maybe I am stuck in an old, out-moded mind-set. Maybe such a service is not actually needed in today’s so-called post-racial world. Maybe my daughters’ 13th birthday party will be rocking and jamming…and possibly quite multicultural…without any need for intervention on my part. That would be a very good thing for me for all sorts of reasons. (Only one being that my social skills still are not that great.)