Story Talk (Series 2, Session 3): “How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie”
Ben opened up the session with some background about the author. The group listened intently and responded with a little laughter at times when the story present either an uncomfortable or humorous moment. They seemed to really enjoy the reading and paused for a bit after it was finished.
The facilitators opened the discussion with a question about what kind of place the Terrace, the narrator’s neighborhood, was. One participant noted that the story had said it had taken place in New Jersey, one of several instances where a group member had pointed to the text directly, showing that they had listened closely to the reading. When asked if it was a nice neighborhood, they agreed that it was not, and that the neighbors, like Howie, were mean.
When asked what surprised them the most, several people said “the language,” and one person said it was “vulgar.” Several group members agree that the language “was the way people talk,” and that it was “real.” When asked if they were offended by anything in the story, the group agreed that they were not offended, but that this story was “better than the others.” One participant said that she was offended by the categories of girls, particularly that the narrator expressed a preference for white girls. This particular group member was white, and most of the other female participants were Black or Hispanic. Several of these other participants asserted that they were not offended and that it was “real.” One person explained, “we hear this every day, but since it’s written down, it’s a big deal. It’s not.” One girl said that the story was “not depressing like the others.”
The discussion then turned to some of the actions the narrator does at the beginning of the story: such as hiding things, turning over photos, etc. One hidden photo is of his cousins who “are old enough to understand.” The group agreed that the narrator seemed embarrassed, but they did not elaborate on why. One photo showed the narrator with an afro, and when asked why he wanted to hide that particular photo, one participant explained that little kids have afros and that it was “embarrassing because he was little.”
The group was then asked to think about how many times hair is talked about in the story and why it might be important. They were a little quiet while thinking, so the facilitators prompted them to explain how they felt about their own hair, what styles are acceptable and which ones are not. Several of the male participants stated that they did not like afros on women and that it looked like they “needed to have their hair done.” Some of the girls explained that it was “natural” thing and a “black power” statement, and some of the guys conceded that they understood this, but they still didn’t think it “looked good.”
The group was then asked to think about how the narrator views the fathers and mothers of the girls he dates. He has an overtly negative reaction when a girl’s father answers the phone, but goes out of his way to make the mom “happy.” Both boys and girls thought it was accurate, and that it was normal for the guy not to want to interact with the father because they can be “scary,” and moms tend to be “nice.”
When asked what kinds of girls the narrator likes, one participant stated that he liked “white and rich girls.” When asked why, several female participants pointed out that he was “poor.” Participants were quicker to note poverty more than race as a motivation behind the narrator’s actions in the story. The character of the “halfie” girl at the end of the story was examined, particularly when she complains that “boys like you always ask me out.” When asked what kind of guys she wants, the girls pointed out that she wants the “same kind,” meaning white and/or rich. The guys were asked how they would feel if a girl said that to them, and they admitted “not good,” and that it was not a compliment. When asked if they would date the narrator, most girls said maybe or no. They didn’t think he was a bad person, but that he had an agenda, and was himself a “type” of person. When asked if they would take some of the advice offered in the story, many of the guys said yes. They were asked to explain why the narrator takes an out of town date to a cheap restaurant, to which they answered “because she is probably not coming back.”
At the end of the discussion the group reiterated that they really liked the story, and that the girls would really like a “girl” version of this story because many of the narrator’s attitudes can also be reflected in female behavior.
[Report prepared by Casey Wallace, Administrative Support Librarian with Gwinnett County Public Library]