In Ali Stewart-Ito’s 12th grade creative writing course, students were asked to read a series of short stories and then choose one they wanted to imitate. Robert Winton ’17 chose to imitate “Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid. In this short story imitation in which a mother talks to her African American son, Robert sought to mimic Kincaid’s themes and style.
Wear your fanciest clothes on Monday and tuck in your ironed white shirt; wear long sleeves on Tuesday that hide your dark complexion; don’t sag your pants too low on the streets; keep your hands out of wool pockets no matter how bitter cold the wind blows; remember to let the sun shine through your smile no matter how gloomy your day has been; when in your car serenading your lover, always consider your impression on strangers and only whistle Vivaldi; always use a turn signal and check your headlights at night; remember to listen to authority in a way that is unquestionable; raise hands and head high unlike the news headline you are so inclined to become; is it true your friend got arrested?; don’t make quick movements when sitting at the wheel; you must never “talk black” or let out a hint of sassiness, not even to friends; don’t turn your back - or they will fire; but I never make quick movements in my car and never on lonely streets; this is how to talk to “them”; this is how not to cry when they never listen; this is how to act “white” instead of turning into the news headline you are so inclined to become; this is how to respect a woman so she doesn’t slap your cheek; this is how to be submissive so you are not noticed; this is how to be a shadow - miles from cop cars, because they summon trouble that boils faster than water; when you are in aisle seven buying packs of chewing gum, make sure you never wear a hood or move your hands near your pockets; be sure to smile at the lady following your every move; this is how to work your hardest; this is how to work even harder; this is how to crack your back and watch sweat pour down your face as others climb above you; this is how you survive in a country that wants you dead; this is how you stand when your people are targeted; this is how you stand when you are the single bullseye; this is how to rise up when so many try to drag you down; this is how to make a decent wage; this is how to make a white person’s wage; this is how to make ends meet; this is how to make money at all; this is how to play your hand when a deck is stacked against you, and this way you won’t immediately become the news headline I have insisted you never become; be sure to wash you hair each day, even with your own sweat; never openly hold a gun - you are not invincible, you know; don’t borrow people’s money - you may get accused of stealing; don’t say someone’s racist, because they might actually be racist; this is how to choose your words; this is how to choose your clothes; this is how to style your hair; this is how to straighten your tie; this is how to raise a son; this is how you teach your son before you lose him to the world; this is how to absorb an insult and never let it touch you; this is how to give a compliment so you seem charitable and sweet; this is how to fight men with butting horns and teeth; this is how an officer will fight you; this is how to take a loss, but you will learn many more ways, because the world is full of impossible battles for young black men like you; this is how to scream your hate, and this is how to close your mouth before it comes back to bite you; this is how to look behind your back; always lock the door to keep the pests out of your life; but what if they find another way in? you mean to say that I have raised a child who doesn’t know how to take life into their own hands?