In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Christopher Cat”An Excerpt
  • Mecca Jamilah Sullivan (bio)

Among the teenagers of New York City, Galton Preparatory High School for the Gifted was known for many things. Each spring, it made the New York Times rankings of the best high schools in the city, and the number of graduates it sent to Ivy League universities each fall was a point of great pride for parents and administrators. But for the students themselves, Galton’s reputation was more complicated, and more exciting. Galton students were the rebellious stepchildren of New York’s young intelligentsia—the ones who popped speed and saw therapists and agonized over their grades during the day, then snuck out of their homes and dropped acid and did lines of cocaine with businessmen in fancy clubs downtown while their parents slept at night. This reputation, of course, was earned almost entirely by the white students, and those few black students born wealthy enough to live beyond the burden of racial proof.

This was not the case for La Famille. They were a group of hood imports— scholarship students, children of immigrants, and first-generation black middle class. Early in the solidification of their group and regularly thereafter, they bonded over the various sit-down talks they’d each gotten from their parents, lectures so similar they could have been copied from an Official Third World Parenting Handbook and distributed across languages, cultures, and generations until they were imprinted on all the world’s upwardly mobile brown teenage brains. There were classics like “You Will Have to Be Twice as Smart and Work Twice as Hard to Get Half of What You Deserve” and “Not Fair? Life’s Not Fair. Don’t You Know Our History?” The boys often got some version of “All They Expect of You Is to End Up Dead, Gay, or In Jail. It’s Your Job to Prove Them Wrong,” while the girls received the corollary: “They Think You’ll End Up Illiterate, Pregnant and On Welfare at Sixteen. It’s Your Job to Prove [End Page 38] Them Wrong.” Talking with Eric Martinez, Shanté Price, and the Hillings twins, it was clear to Malaya that these dictums ran through the diaspora like blood and bassbeats. They brought La Famille together. Whatever nonsense Galton’s white students got into, the members of La Famille understood that their place was only to listen to the gossip with a delicate mix of disgust and envy, and to go on about their forward-striving lives.

Malaya Clondon never mentioned the other sit-downs she got from her parents—If You Don’t Lose Weight, You’re Going to Die—or how much she longed to be the kind of girl who someone would worry might turn up pregnant one day. As La Famille’s charming fat girl—beyond fat, she knew, but still—her role was to be dazzling, the warm and winsome glue that kept the group whole.

Compared to the white kids’, La Famille’s infractions were minor, but for them, even small transgressions carried the scent and thrill of danger. Cutting class to give hand jobs in the record store, buying blurry overdubbed VHS pornos from the news stands on 72nd street and watching them in Eric Martinez’s dusty kitchen, sneaking out to meet in Central Park to drink $1.25 bottles of flavored malt liquor and wine coolers from the bodega and smoke Newports late into the night—there were no hard drugs involved in their hijinks, no felonies or glamorous trysts, but it was enough to make them feel alive and almost grown.

One morning in December of eleventh grade, a blizzard hit Manhattan unexpectedly, and classes were dismissed after first period. On a nicer day, this would have meant taking it to the park or the two-dollar movie theater in midtown to laugh too loudly and eat popcorn while Shanté and Eric made out in the back row. But the blizzard seemed to be serious, because the train schedules had slowed down, which meant that the kids from Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx had to start their treks home now. RayShawn Carter, Shanté, and the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 38-42
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.