“You gotta Kool? You gotta Newport?” the black girl shouted at me from three feet away, she hanging by the high school girl’s room bathroom stall, me just pulling my cigarettes out of my pocketbook. I smoked Newports back then. The white girls who smoked Marlboro’s were glad they did, because they said all the black girls liked to smoke menthols. And, you know, it did seem the majority of black girls in the bathroom did ask for menthol cigarettes.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was sometimes scared by the black girls who called out to me for a smoke, either for a full cigarette, or if we were all in a hurry sneaking our smokes in between classes in the girls room; something that was forbidden, then maybe just to take a drag off of your cigarette.
“Awww, girl you made her cigarette all hot!” one of the black girls called out to her friend, as the girl handed me back my cigarette, that seemed to go from full to two inches of ash in five seconds flat.
I didn’t mind taking the cigarette back, and dragging on it, but we gave it that term “hot” for a reason–if you pulled on the cigarette harshly, the filter would feel hot, and not taste good anymore.
I started this post in my high school girls’ room, because it was back then that it seeped into my unconscious there were types of black girls, and now thirty years later, I can see that these were forced stereotypes that came from…..where? Not my parents. Was it from other kids at school saying you should be scared of black girls, that they won’t like you, will want to fight you, want to smoke your cigarettes? It’s not that I recall any person on any particular day telling me about the kinds of black girls there were, and believe me, I have a freakish memory, so I would remember. It was more like a murmur, a conglomerate of hushed murmurs that came from out-of-nowhere to tell the secrets of what black girls were like.
How does this invisible generation of stereotypes come into being, so that it appears that the perception of someone, comes through some kind of collective unconscious; from within, even when you were raised to believe no one was any different, or any better, or any worse than you because of their skin color?
The black girl types that stood out for me were, and I can see them all marching down my high school corridor: the loud asking for your cigarette girl, the loud, funny as heck girl, the angry girl, and, the quiet, studious, church-going girl. As I envision these girls, the biggest thought and concern that looms over my head now is, did some of them feel they needed to deliver on the stereotyped black girl roles defined for them? And, again, I ask defined by who? White America? Television shows? Their teachers, white students, their families, their friends?
Yet, when I pull the lens back, and broaden the view, I of course remember many black girls that didn’t fit into these extreme stereotypes. Girls that were just, well, regular girls. Girls that got lost in the sea of our student body; that just blended in. Girls that were smart, but not churchy, girls that had a good sense of humor, but weren’t loud about it, girls that were smart, funny, played sports, took piano lessons, belonged to the Accounting Club, girls who never openly expressed anger.
And, I can think of white girls that I was afraid of too. There was the cool, cigarette smoking Senior, who confronted me in the girls’ room for snitching and telling that she was the one who shoplifted a purse from my mother’s store. Or, the girl who confronted me in the girls’ room ( a lot happens in the girls’ room!) to warn me to stay away from the boyfriend she stole from me. I can think of white girls that fit into types too, and I can march them down the corridor: the popular cheerleader, the loud, funny girl, the bookworm, the goody two-shoes girl, the Farrah Fawcett hair girl, and the long, denim jacket wearing, pot-smoking burn-out girl.
It seems no one has a cornerstone on “types.” And, I know there is more to the construction of these types than I’ve touched on. I know that there is more to it than a few extreme individuals becoming the over-arching representatives of one’s race and gender.
Somebody help me out here. How does this happen? And, please tell me, have you ever felt you had to live up to a “type” you felt was defined by others for you due to your race and/or gender?