A short story by Lolita Files
They gathered at the intersection of a world made over, huddled in small groups in the parking lot of the Barclays Center at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic. Gray exhaust from the idling black tour bus gently polluted the air.
The name AAAdventures (a meant-to-be-clever distillation of “African-American Adventures”) was painted in gold on both sides of the bus, sandwiched between two images. One image was of a black woman in jeans and a gold t-shirt adorned with a black fist, ankhs dangling from her ears, her hair in Bantu knots. Her hand was on her hip, her neck slightly crooked in a way often stereotyped by mainstream America. The other image was a black man in an oversized white t-shirt, jeans, and Timbs, his back facing outward, arms raised, torso curved, his hip jutted in the telltale move of a lively bit of get-down known as The Shmoney Dance.
There’d been a surprising chill in the air this morning as the people waiting in the parking lot had walked from the bed and breakfast where they’d been staying, just a few blocks away. For an August that had already proved to be one of the most sweltering on record, this drastic drop was more than unusual. By this time (nine a.m.) on the six mornings prior, the temperature had already reached eighty, steadily climbing to what consistently became a hundred-and-ten-plus-degree hell. Today, their breath was turning to frost. It wasn’t clear if this nip in the air was related to a sudden shift in climate or was born of a chill already inside them, but it was there, definitely there.
This was the last day. They were simultaneously stoked for their final adventure and greatly disappointed it was all about to end. Six of the seven days had blown by in an instant. Much had been gleaned. Much, moving forward, would be done with what they’d learned.
No one had on outerwear that morning. No one had expected to need it. They were in t-shirts mostly, with varying ethnic images and phrases, from Bob Marley’s face over the words “One Love,” to the ubiquitous iconic image of Biggie wearing that tilted gold bejeweled crown (because Brooklyn), accompanied by the phrase, “The Notorious I.Y.T.” A fortyish man with Clooney-esque good looks wore a black tee with the words “Malcolm & Garvey & Huey & George.” A pale thin girl with flaxen hair and the most startling blue eyes rocked a yellow tank with the words “Bish Whet?” Her friend (sister, perhaps?), equally pale, flaxen-haired, and startlingly blue-eyed, wore a red v-neck “Black Girls Are Magic” tee. The two flaxen-haired girls stood close together – freezing, excited, giddy even – drinking steaming cups of something from Starbucks in an effort to get warm.
All twenty of these cold, huddled white people – “AAAdventurers” was their official title – had paid handsomely for this…these seven days…this most exciting foray into what they considered the must-be-known. Two hundred thousand dollars in U.S. currency, up-front, no installments, no discounts. Ironclad, nonrefundable contracts had been signed and witnessed. The ability to bail at the last moment on any part of the adventures had been forsworn – sickness, nerves, and reservations be damned. Location tracking on all their devices had been deactivated on Day One.
“I apologize, but it’s mandatory,” their black tour guide had said on that very first day. “Where we go, what we do…all of it is proprietary.”
Her name was Genesis Gones (“the second G is soft like the first”). She was a pretty woman in her late thirties with dark brown skin, locs pulled back in a conservative bun, a warm voice that was quick to erupt in an infectious childlike laugh, and brown eyes that danced with a happy welcoming light. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt with the words “Soul Sister,” and black Chucks, she had instantly put all the AAAdventurers at ease. They’d been hoping for a Sharkeisha, a BonQuiQui, maybe even a Va’Gina, but, as black names went, Genesis was good. None of them knew any white people named Genesis. When the time came where they recounted the extremely limited details of this trip they were legally allowed to share with family and friends, “Our guide, Genesis…” would still get a laugh.
Among the AAAdventurers were thrill-seekers, rag-tag bohemians, academics, trustafarians, a tech billionaire, an athlete, a rapper, entrepreneurs, and über-hipsters. All wealthy, all culture vultures; folks who’d never had a put-upon moment in their lives. They wanted to see what it was like, this seven-day experience of “authentic African-American culture,” so they could speak on it with a presumed level of expertise or brag about it like the urban safari that it was. Each planned to take the parts of black culture they were exposed to that would best advance and enhance his or her personal agenda. This tour was accelerated training. What would normally take months, possibly even years, of living among and interacting with blacks (which, honestly, none of them wanted to go through), was being achieved in seven intensive days. They would get insider access and hands-on learning…the filters-off, real-deal usable skinny straight from the horses’, rather, black folks’ mouths and world. The brochure had promised:
Each day’s adventure, like most black people’s lives, will be full of surprises. The daily adventure will not be revealed to you in advance, but you can trust that it will be specific, clear, and accessible, exceeding your expectations and financial investment. We allow you the unlimited freedom to explore and absorb all that’s around you, and equip you with the tools to co-opt what you’ve learned into your everyday lives, businesses, and interactions with African-Americans, all in a way that doesn’t come across as inauthentic. By the end of the seven-day tour, the title “Expert in the African-American Experience” will irrefutably be yours, a badge of honor you can wear with glowing pride.
Two of the AAAdventurers were doing research for their doctoral dissertations, with plans of presenting their findings in ways that would give black people a proper voice in America. The greater society was more apt to listen to black issues if a white person spoke on their behalf. Each of these Ph.D. candidates (in African-American Studies and African-American History, respectively) wanted to be that white-filtered black voice.
Four AAAdventurers, their bodies plastically sculpted black-woman curvy, were a clique of besties; real-life Veruca Salts looking to ransack a culture whose men they’d already been ransacking sexually. They saw this tour as their golden ticket to getting all the way in with black men, especially the moneyed ones who viewed white girls such as themselves as the ultimate proof they’d made it. The wealthy Manhattan daddies of these Verucas had met their demands, coughing up the two hundred grand for the tour without protest, knowing this was a phase white daughters often went through that never lasted. Most black-dabbling white daughters – after the inevitable divorce from a rapper, pro athlete, actor, or entertainment mogul (these types were the easiest and most gullible to go after) – came out of it with a sizeable settlement, alimony, child support (if there were children), and the burning desire to settle down with a man more like daddy, career- and color-wise. The wealthy daddies of the Verucas understood this. Hell, they had dipped into dark wells themselves a time or three in their youths. One of them currently had a black mistress in the Bronx.
“Actually, ‘mistress’ is being generous,” he’d corrected over drinks with fellow Wall Street buddies. “She’s super-gaudy and not even that cute, and the oils from her hair and her body always stain my clothes, but hey…she satisfies my hoodrat kink.”
He leaned in, whispering.
“She does this thing where she takes those long acrylic nails…” he wriggled his fingers as if he had them himself, “…and she runs them underneath my balls juuuuuust so, with a light touch, as she’s giving me head.” He leaned back, pausing for effect, then, his voice much louder…
“I swear to God, I practically blast the back of her throat off, every single time! Every single time!”
His Wall Street buddies had been intrigued.
“Does she get mad?” one asked.
“No, Bob, that’s the thing. They like it! These black chicks, they live to let you bust one off in their mouths.”
“Does she swallow?” asked another.
“Fuck yeah, she swallows! It’s what they do! Meanwhile, my wife’s lily-white lips haven’t been anywhere near my dick since the turn of the millennium.”
Yes, the wealthy Manhattan daddies understood their black-curious daughters’ need to be on this tour. Sometimes one had to jump all the way into a thing in order to get it out of one’s system.
For other AAAdventurers on this inaugural tour, this experience would, they anticipated, be the gift that kept on giving. It would be fecund mother to a treasure trove of think pieces that hopefully sprouted invites to appear on progressive cable news programs, con panels on diversity, perhaps secure writing gigs for the HuffPost, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, The Atlantic, maybe even lucrative book deals. They were white, after all. The publishing world went wild for white people writing about black anything, fiction or nonfiction, with a certain degree of real or feigned know-how. Heavens knew someone – someones – needed to be the white versions of the Melissa Harris-Perrys, the Ta-Nehisi Coates, the dream hamptons, Mikki Kendalls, Marc Lamont Hills, and the Jamilah Lemieuxs of America. Why should they get to corner the market speaking about things involving the black experience – the plight of the black male, black feminism/womanism, black injustice, black whatever – just because they were black? How unfair was that? And having Michael Skolnick represent for “down” white people wasn’t enough, blackdammit! (←They’d learned that word on Day One, during the “‘Say What, Now?’: Sounding Unaffected Speaking AAVE” adventure where they’d been armed with a bevy of both old-school and super-fresh, straight-from-Black-Twitter, up-to-the-minute bonafide blackspeak.)
There was a real void when it came to white folks who “got it”; those who had walked that black walk and talked that black talk (so what if they’d done it in just seven days and had paid a grip to do so?), and were therefore qualified to speak on, speak like, and adopt aspects of black culture without being challenged or mocked.
These seven days of intense immersion, in the AAAdventurers’ minds, would prove to be two hundred thousand dollars well spent.
Besides, “Scared money don’t make money.”
Not coincidentally, that was also the name of the Day Three adventure (“‘Scared Money Don’t Make Money’: How To Hood Hustle In These Real and Cyber Streets”) that toured them through a low-income housing project in Red Hook. They’d witnessed the sale of crack cocaine, cheap pussy, cheaper mollies (←a Day One word), some bomb-ass (←another Day-Oner) high-quality weed, even heaters and choppers (←two more Day One words!) for those who needed to take arms against a sea of get-back (←a Day One word, yo!) due to dubious activity on those mean Red Hook streets.
They’d held court with Stacks, the proprietor – correction, the “slanger” (←Day One, bitches!) – of said goods and services. Stacks was a gangly, bullet-wound-riddled dealer-cum-pimp who’d been granted immunity from prosecution (negotiated by a powerful black New York City congressman) in exchange for his participation as an “Educator” in this for-profit cultural safari/heist. How such a thing had been arranged, especially the sale of illegal weapons, was a mystery that initially unnerved the AAAdventurers.
“Are you sure all of this is legal?” the Clooney cutie had asked Genesis. “I practice the law and I’ve never–“
“So do I,” Genesis interrupted. “You’re not involved in any of his transactional activity, so it’s not aiding and abetting. None of you are plotting with him in any way, so conspiracy isn’t involved. He’s merely instructing you in the art of what he does so you have a better understanding of his world. Isn’t that what you paid for?”
Clooney-face didn’t look too convinced. Genesis touched him on the arm.
“Rest assured this has all been cleared.”
Since this was the very first tour, Stacks had been a little shaky on the teaching front. He’d snapped on a hipster chick who’d touched his cornrows without asking. She should have been patient because Day Five, the “Beady Beads and Baby Hair” adventure, was a full-on touch-all-the-black-hair-you-want fingerfest. The AAAdventurers were even taught how to cornrow, do comb twists to create starter locs, and shown how to properly scratch and grease a black person’s scalp.
Stacks had also, on instinct, shoved his Glock down the mouth of a twenty-three-year-old dating app billionaire who’d pocketed a fistful of crack vials on the sneak. Two black off-duty NYPD officers – hired to accompany all aspects of the tour – had quickly stepped in to handle Stacks.
“No, no!” the dating app billionaire had insisted. “Do me! This is what I signed up for!”
Without pause – and protected from penalty and repercussions by those ironclad contracts the AAAdventurers had signed – the black officers had rained a scourge of blows upon the man, lighting him up with their tasers for good measure. The AAAdventurers had all stepped back, looking on in a bizarre cocktail of alarm, excitement, and envy as the dating app billionaire took the kind of beating black men and women received at the hands of cops every day in America.
When the officers finished, the dating app billionaire struggled to sit up, his face and body a mosaic of blood and swole. He smiled triumphantly. No matter what else happened on the remaining adventures, he felt he’d achieved the ultimate in appropriation. He’d taken one for a team to which he didn’t even belong! He was due all the dap (←an oldie-but-goodie word from Day One). He ran his tongue over his front teeth. One of them was missing. An AAAdventurer, the rapper, pointed at the knocked-out tooth on the floor.
“Daaaaaaaaaamn!” His face was all admiration and awe.
Genesis had been a little miffed over the incident, but she’d kept that to herself. The “…And Justice For Y’all” adventure was scheduled for the very next day. That’s when the tasers would come out for all manner of made-up transgressions, accompanied by the seizing of all money and property in the possession of the AAAdventurers in a lesson on civil forfeiture.
None of them got back the seized money and property after that Day Four adventure. “Gotta pay the cost to be the boss.” That phrase had been learned on Day Two, the “‘Playing Your Game, Baby’: Breaking Into Hip-Hop and R&B” adventure. The AAAdventurers had been a bit pensive on the ride back that day. Turned out some fucking had been involved.
The Verucas had prompted it by giving unsolicited blowjobs to the two A-list black rappers charged with showing the AAAdventurers how they got down in the studio, including the basics of how to spit (←Day One word alert). The Verucas wanted the fucking, and so did the rappers and their entourages, since it was being offered up and all. That meant everyone else had to get fucked, too. The AAAdventurers, all of them, had to be down for anything, come what may. It was in the contract, after all.
No one had wanted to talk about any of it afterwards. The straight male AAAdventurers among them were particularly sullen. When the tour bus had returned to the Barclays Center parking lot and the AAAdventurers disembarked and headed back to the bed and breakfast for the night, the rapper AAAdventurer had hung back. He’d pulled Genesis aside.
“Is everything that happens on this tour confidential?” he asked, voice low, unable to make eye contact with her.
“Of course, it is,” Genesis replied.
“What about with those rappers and their crews?”
“They all had to sign confidentiality contracts to even participate,” Genesis said. “Every detail of this tour, down to the smallest, has been negotiated with great care for the protection of the AAAdventurers and AAAdventure Tours itself.”
“Why would you guys need protection?” the rapper asked, cautiously letting his eyes meet hers.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “Do you know what we’ll be accused of, once word of this first tour gets out? Race treason, at the very least. We’re allowing white people to access the trade secrets of our people. We’re basically selling our culture to the highest bidders. The risk is ours much more than it is yours.”
“But white people steal black culture all the time. We’ve been stealing it for decades.”
“Centuries,” she corrected.
“Yeah, that too,” the rapper said. “It only makes sense for you guys to profit from it.”
“That’s what I say,” Genesis replied with a shrug.
“I still don’t understand how I even received an invitation to participate,” said the rapper.
“You don’t remember?”
“Remember what?” the rapper asked, genuinely confused.
“You took part in a random poll six months ago asking how far you’d be willing to go to learn about African-American culture to use it for personal or professional gain.”
The rapper’s eyes shifted upward to the left as he searched his mind.
“Oh yeah, I remember that! It was outside the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. A guy with a clipboard stopped me on my way in.”
“Right,” said Genesis. “That poll broke down participants by age, sex, background, career, interests, and income. You had to be willing to give your name and a mailing address. You were. This tour was only offered to those who had the means to afford it. Your invitation was sent four months after you took that poll.”
The rapper had nodded, recalling the Fed Ex courier at the door of his Spanish bungalow in the Hollywood Hills. The courier was holding a medium-sized box. The rapper had signed for it and brought it inside. The sender was an “HHB Enterprises, Ltd” in New York, New York. He hadn’t recognized the name. Whatever. He opened the package. Inside was a glossy flat black box tied with a black satin ribbon.
“Really?” he’d said, already annoyed.
He’d untied the ribbon and opened the box. Inside was a thick shiny black envelope. He’d turned it over. It was sealed with black wax with the letters “HHB” embossed in beautiful calligraphy. The rapper tore it open, pulling out the contents.
An invitation. A brochure. He scanned them both, his eyes widening as he read.
His dick got hard.
It was a dream come true, if the two-hundred-thousand-dollar price tag could be met. It could. The rapper came from generational wealth. He’d blown that much the previous summer in Ibiza. He wouldn’t hesitate to spend it on this. This was the key to the urban kingdom. An Acela Express to street cred and keepin’-it-realness. With something like this, his fledgling rap career would skyrocket. He could be the next Macklemore, maybe even bigger than Eminem.
“Yeah,” he said to Genesis. “I remember.”
“Then you remember,” she said, “that the invitation and brochure promised confidentiality every step of the way.”
“So nobody will know about what happened today. The rappers who were there want to keep that stuff quiet just as much as you do.”
The rapper nodded.
“Yo…” he said, his eyes suddenly full of epiphany. “The Illuminati is real!”
“Cool your heels, white boy. What went down in that studio today had nothing to do with the Illuminati. It was about people having sex, nothing more. You wanted to see what goes down in the rap game. That’s the kind of stuff that goes down. If you’re too soft for it–”
“I’m not soft.” His chest was all puffed up at her remark. A tiny half-smile crept up at the corner of Genesis’ mouth.
“I didn’t think so,” she said. “Now go get some sleep. You’re going to need it for tomorrow’s adventure.”
Black-dick-loving Verucas and confidential fuckings aside, these six days, so far, really had been a sort of ultimate Chocolate Factory tour, sans a Charlie. America’s Charlie’s – poor and middle-class white people – could never have access to this. They’d have to do their appropriating like most white people, through social media stalking, studying a black friend or lover, interaction with black people at their jobs or in school, a black housekeeper (for those fortunate enough to have one), Urban Dictionary, listening to hip-hop, watching black people wild out on the Love & Hip-Hop franchise, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and other ratchet and ratcheted-up reality tv, studying lots of BET and TV One, and by overloading on episodes of classic black shows like Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford & Son and A Different World. The Cosby Show, though a source of pride for blacks and quite entertaining to white folks in general, had always been eyed by whites as an improbable red herring. They saw it as black people mimicking white people, not like how black people really were. There wasn’t much to be had there in terms of appropriation, unlike such stereotype-rich sitcoms as Diff’rent Strokes and 227.
Yes, America’s Charlies had a “hard row to hoe.” (←From Day Six! A phrase learned during the “‘Who Brought That Potato Salad?’: Exploring The Black Palate” adventure, when the discussion turned to the growing of collards and somehow hoeing cotton came up.) America’s Charlies often found their own race unsympathetic to their plight, which many times resulted in the Charlies lashing out at blacks, America’s pecking orders being such as they were. As one of the AAAdventurers, an elegant slender brunette who ran a bistro in Williamsburg, had put it…
“Anyone who was born with a leg up in this country, skinfully speaking, and still can’t make a go of it is clearly squandering an opportunity somewhere.”
(She was converting her bistro into a soul food café with the plan to open several more in the tri-state area. The restaurants would be named Ya Mama’s! She was on this tour because she wanted prime access to black people who would show her how they cooked, or at least give her some of their authentic recipes. She anticipated that what she learned would be instrumental in making Ya Mama’s! a household name.)
If this were indeed a tour of a Charlie-less Chocolate Factory, then black culture, this thing the AAAdventurers had paid so dearly to explore and cherry-pick, was the Chocolate Factory itself. Black folks were the Oompa-Loompas – those tiny, ditty-prone and dance-happy helper-people originally described in Roald Dahl’s book not as orange and green-haired like in the movies, but as “pygmies” from “the deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man has ever been before.” The Oompa-Loompas were so black, Charlie Bucket actually thought they were made of chocolate. Wonka, a most masterful appropriator and self-applauding benevolent master, had “rescued” these extraordinary little people from starvation and danger and, armed with three thousand of them as cheap labor (pay was all the cacao beans they could eat!), was suddenly possessed of the ability to create a fantasyland filled with chocolate waterfalls and rivers, flying glass elevators, and an array of sweets and goodies that electrified the palate. The Oompa-Loompas, when allowed to be seen, made up for their distracting presence with the delivery of clever cautionary tunes-cum-funky dance moves.
Similarly, white America had Oompa-Loompa’d itself of a treasure of Africans and put them to work building its fantasyland. Those Africans transformed everything they touched, from food to music to dance to dress to hairstyles to the predominant language itself. They created a culture that exuded a charisma all wanted in on, even though the black people themselves, just like the Oompa-Loompas, were preferably kept out of view.
White people just wanted their essence.
White people just wanted their stuff.
The AAAdventurers were shivering in the Barclays Center parking lot, still waiting for things to get underway on this last day, the seventh day.
The doors of the bus finally opened with a whoosh!
The driver, Keevin – a smiling middle-aged black man in a crisp sky-blue short-sleeved shirt and dark blue pants – greeted them warmly. They’d spent nearly a week together. He knew each and everyone by name.
“Good morning! Welcome to the final adventure! I hope you all slept well last night!”
The AAAdventurers boarded.
“Good morning, Natasha!” Keevin beamed at a woman with wide low-slung hips whose husband’s family owned half of lower Manhattan.
“Good morning, Keevin!” Natasha beamed right back.
She’d had a black lover for years. She was seriously contemplating running away with him. She wanted to make sure she could blend in with his extended family.
One-by-one, they got on the tour bus and made their way to their seats. Genesis boarded last. Keevin closed the doors behind her. She stood at the front of the aisle, hands on her hips, assuming her the role of head cheerleader, a position she’d been playing all week.
“Are we ready for the final adventure?!”
“Yes! We! Are!”
“And are we ready to appropriate the last appropriate-able thing?”
“Nigga whaaaaaaaaaat?! Nigga whaaaaaaaaat?!”
The corner of Genesis’ lip curled upward in a smirk.
“Well, alright then!” She looked at Keevin, whose lip was curled upward in a similar fashion. “Keevin, let’s get this final co-opt party started!”
All the other adventures had taken place in four of the five boroughs, in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and The Bronx. Today’s trip was different. Today they were hitting the open road, heading far beyond the city limits.
“Niggers” and “niggas” abounded on the bus, as they had done on the six prior days, rising up in a cacophonous swell of conversations that merged without context or care. This was a judgment-free zone. That was what they’d paid for, wasn’t it? The right to do what black people do, which included saying “nigger” in all its manifestations, full-throated, not in whispered or hushed tones. They’d bought the right to bask in its coolness and cultural cachet, free from being called a racist, or tone deaf, or the dreaded P-word, “privileged.” The AAAdventurers all hated that word. It had become a loaded gun that, when fired, rendered the receiver either mute or so puffed up with defensiveness, it made them seem guilty of racism. Guilt shouldn’t have even been a part of the equation. It wasn’t their fault that they’d been born white. They’d had no hand in what their distant ancestors had done to blacks. Their wealth advantage was happenstance, a dealing of the cards by Fate. Was it their fault being white had come with great favor?
Not one of the AAAdventurers considered him or herself a racist. How could they be racist when they loved black culture so much? They had black friends, black colleagues, black lovers, black neighbors; some even had black relatives, and others might eventually have half-black children. For the ones who didn’t have any of those relationships, at the very least, they loved black things. The music, the fried chicken, the booties, the dick. The hairstyles, the gestures, the swag. Ciroc.
All of it.
They didn’t want to be black. They just wanted to know what being black felt like in its best moments. They wanted to be able to slip in and out of the posturing of it at will. Mostly, they just wanted the parts that would benefit their professional and personal interests, including getting the drawls (← this AAVE nugget had become a favorite among the group) of the black women and/or men they fetishized. It wasn’t enough for them to say to the dark objects of their affections, “I’m down with y’all, I only date black.” That line was too hit-or-miss. No. They had to bring it; know the right words, the right way to walk, the right places to go, the right foods to eat, and exactly how to bond over sensitive topics like racial profiling, Obamacare, Ferguson, the Voting Rights Amendment Act, Popeye’s versus Church’s, weaves versus natural hair, Bey and Jay, T.I. and Tiny, T.I. versus Azealia Banks, T.I. versus Floyd Mayweather, Floyd Mayweather versus everything, and all things Lil Boosie.
The kind of information needed in order to best get those Nubian drawls to drop.
Black game recognized wannabe black game.
Loud music blasted throughout the tour bus. White hands waved wildly in the air as the AAAdventurers sang along.
“Got my niggas in Paris and they going gorillas, huuuuuh!”
The dating app billionaire jumped out of his seat and did The Shmoney Dance down the aisle. The others cheered and pumped their fists, impressed at his degree of appropriation.
“Yoooooo, you on that Yoda level, my nigga!” said a thirtyish six-foot-eight redheaded guy, a player for the Atlanta Hawks. He dapped the dating app billionaire as he Shmoneyed by.
“Hahahahaha!” the dating app billionaire laughed, plopping into his seat. “I’m a reverse Oreo! I’m white on the outside, black on the inside!”
Genesis glanced back at him.
“How convenient,” she said. “You get all the best parts of being black with none of the profiling, harassment, marginalization, and disenfranchisement that goes along with it.”
The dating app billionaire nodded, his wide grin showing off the missing tooth.
“My nigga! That’s exactly what I’m saying!”
Genesis turned around in her seat. She stared at the highway.
Keevin glanced over at her. Genesis looked at him looking at her.
“Eyes on the road,” she said. “We don’t want to lose time.”
The tour bus roared up I-87 North.
An hour before their arrival at the destination of the final adventure, Genesis walked down the aisle and passed out black blindfolds to everyone.
“Make sure you tie them on tight,” she said. “I’ll be coming back through to check. If anyone’s blindfold isn’t tied on securely, it’s grounds to cancel the whole adventure.”
Protests erupted among the AAAdventurers. Genesis talked over them, her tone pleasant, but firm.
“We’ll turn the tour bus around and take you back to the city. It will be considered breach of contract, meaning none of you will be allowed to appropriate anything you’ve learned over the past six days, plus we’ll be entitled to damages in the amount listed in your contracts. I’m sure you remember the figure.”
The sound of harried hands tying blindfolds on faces echoed throughout the bus. Genesis watched as they checked with one another.
“Pull the back of my blindfold. Does it seem tight enough?”
“My hands are kind of shaky. Would you tie mine for me, extra-tight?”
“Fuck this, no way I’m missing out on getting everything because one of you fucks can’t tie on a blindfold! Who needs me to check theirs?”
“Alright, my nigga. Give me a second. I’m feeling my way over to you.”
The blindfolds were so tight, some of their faces were turning blue. Genesis went back up front to her seat. She wouldn’t need to re-check them. These people wanted what they wanted and weren’t trying to do anything that would keep them from getting it.
The doors of the bus opened with a whoosh!
They were no longer moving, having arrived at the place.
Genesis rose from her seat and addressed them again.
“Please keep your blindfolds on and stay seated until you are tapped twice on the shoulder. You will be guided off the bus to the final adventure. Don’t talk. Don’t do anything but go where you’re led, do you understand?”
“We got it, my nigga!” the AAAdventurers exclaimed.
“Alright, then,” said Genesis. “Once you’re led to your spot, you’ll be tapped twice again. That means stay exactly where you are.” She looked them over, a sea of white faces in black blindfolds, down for whatever.
“Congratulate yourselves,” she added. “You did it. You stuck it out through every adventure. I must admit, I am thoroughly impressed at how determined you are to appropriate the ways of my people. Give yourselves a hand.”
A burst of applause shot through the bus.
“Very good,” said Genesis. “Now be still and be quiet. Don’t do anything until you feel the two taps.”
One-by-one, the AAAdventurers were tap-tapped on the shoulder. One-by-one, they were led off the bus. They were walked several yards, spun around to face the direction from which they’d just come, and tap-tapped once more on the shoulder.
Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap.
The tap-tapping continued until all twenty of the AAAdventurers were in place and ready for their final adventure.
“You may now remove your blindfolds!”
Genesis’ voice was amplified, like she was talking through a bullhorn.
The AAAdventurers undid their blindfolds. They rubbed their eyes, the world around them slowly coming into focus. There was the fresh smell of open air. The happy call of whip-poor-wills.
The AAAdventurers were in a grove, each in front of a tree. Twenty white nooses dangled before them, draped over limbs high above each. Twenty black men faced them, shotguns aimed. The AAAdventurers looked behind them. Another twenty men – robust, muscled black masses of pure strength – held the ends of the ropes, ready to pull once the nooses were engaged and the order was given.
At a distance behind the black men with shotguns, some thirty black men, women, and children looked on, all dressed in black. Some were Elders who had lived to see much progress and many setbacks. It was important, the adults believed, for the children to be here. They hadn’t been reckless about that decision. No small children were present. The youngest in the group was eleven years old.
Screaming and shrieking erupted from the AAAdventurers.
“What the fuck?!”
“Yo, Genesis, this isn’t funny!”
“Oh my God, what’s happening right now?”
“All of you could go to jail for this! My father’s a senator! He’ll make sure it happens!”
A Veruca bolted, trying to get away. One of the men aimed his shotgun at her. She froze. He gestured with the gun. She trudged back to her place, wailing, her over-collagened maw wide and trembling.
Genesis was standing alongside the men with shotguns, her expression cold, her eyes flashing. There was, in fact, a bullhorn in her hand. She put it up to her mouth, but she really didn’t need it.
The AAAdventurers fell silent. It was the first time they’d seen or heard this dark side of Genesis.
“Now, slip the noose over your head.”
“Fuck no! Fuck this!”
“SHUT UP!” Genesis barked through the bullhorn. “Do it now or forfeit everything!”
The AAAdventurers looked at each other, bewildered. Was this a test? A prank? Genesis had used the word “forfeit.” Did that mean they might they still get their “expert” designations and this was just a test of their wills?
All twenty of the men facing them, as if on cue, raised their shotguns and cocked them. Cla-clack! The AAAdventurers jumped. The rapper involuntarily shat a marble-sized turd.
The men lowered the shotguns and aimed them at the AAAdventurers. Genesis repeated her order.
“Slip the noose over your head.”
One-by-one, the AAAdventurers put their heads in the nooses.
“Pull them tight until they’re secure around your necks.”
The Verucas, separated from each other, were crying, sniveling, falling to emotional pieces as they pulled their nooses as tight as they could bear. A stream of golden urine ran down the right leg of the flaxen-haired girl in the “Bish Whet?” tank top as she tightened her noose. The basketball player pulled the loop until it was secure around his neck, then hugged himself and began to rock, ever so slightly, humming a comforting lullaby from his childhood.
“Stop that!” Genesis snapped at him.
“Yeah,” hissed Clooney-face at the ballplayer. “Stop it before you get us all killed.”
Genesis smirked at Clooney-face. A bold one he was. She looked at the others, their heads encircled by the stark white ropes.
“So how does it feel?” Genesis asked through the bullhorn as she paced in front of them. “With this step, you’ve done it all. This is the final frontier of the appropriated African-American experience!”
“You black cunt,” someone muttered. “You think this is funny.”
Genesis looked in the direction of the comment. She laughed, a blood-curdling sound that was worlds away from the childlike laughter they’d heard from her when they first arrived for the tour.
“That’s right,” she said, “let it out. At the end of the day, we know that you hate us. All you want is to take what we’ve got.”
“Fuck you, you fucking nigger! This is why the world despises your kind!”
This was from Our Lady of Williamsburg. She who wanted to run a chain of soul food restaurants. Ya Mama’s! indeed.
“You’ll be happy to know that you will get your badges,” Genesis continued. “You’ll get everything you signed up for. My word is bond.”
She turned her back and walked towards the group of people watching from a distance. Just as she passed the gunmen, she barked the command.
The strongmen holding the ropes snatched them with the unleashed fury of four-hundred-plus years of persecution, strangling the AAAdventurers, pulling them high, higher, as the AAAdventurers fought against the inevitable, kicking, squirming, clawing at the ropes around their necks as it cut off their breathing. Some of them, the frailer ones, their necks broke right away, as soon as the rope was snatched. One, a venture capitalist from San Francisco, managed to squeeze out one last “Nigger!” as his final offering to the world.
Each strongman tied the rope tight around the trunk of their tree.
Genesis stared ahead at the group of black people witnessing it all. The children were crying, their faces buried in the bodies of the adults. The adults were mostly stoic, even as tears streamed down their cheeks. They were praying, their words carried on the wind.
“…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
Genesis turned and looked at the AAAdventurers.
The twenty white bodies swung in the breeze.
There were no cellphones, no tablets, no technology of any sort among those present for the final adventure. Even though the AAAdventurers had the location tracking turned off on their electronic devices when they first arrived, those devices and whatever money they’d had in their possession had been confiscated on Day Four, the “…And Justice For Y’all” adventure, during the civil forfeiture drill. The electronic devices had been disassembled, smashed, and taken to a blast furnace in Newark.
The Elders placed the ceremonial badges in the children’s hands and gently pushed them forward. The children planted their feet. They weren’t disrespectful, but now, in this moment, they didn’t want to do the thing for which they’d been preparing the last two days.
“You must bear witness!” chided a wizened woman who had to be turning the knob on one hundred’s door. Her hair was thin, brittle, copier-paper white, but her limbs were sturdy and her eyes more alert than they’d ever been in the 99.9999 years she’d walked the earth. Her voice was strong, deep, resonant with authority.
“You must bear witness!” she repeated, as though declaring an edict to be etched in stone. “You must bear witness that this must stop! We are not their property to rape and discard! To murder! To ruin! No more! No more! ”
“Why would they sign up for this?” asked a twentyish young man with shoulder-length locs standing next to one of the Elders. “I wasn’t even sure they was gonna go through with it. I mean, was it worth it to be like us so much they was willing to die for it?”
“Who said they knew they were dying?” the Elder asked.
“It was always a possibility,” said Genesis, who was standing just a few feet away. “It’s not my fault they didn’t consider it.”
She was holding a manila folder. She walked over to them, opening the folder and pointing. “See? The contract is clear.”
The young man and the Elder looked. She showed them a blank copy. It was short, just a page.
I, ____________________________, do solemnly agree to willingly participate in each and every aspect of African-American culture, life, and history presented to me as a “tour” in the form of seven days of planned experiences (hereafter referred to as “adventures”) by AAAdventure Tours, LLC and whatever other spontaneous experiences arise during those adventures. I hold harmless AAAdventure Tours, LLC, its employees, contractors, associates, and affiliates against any and all claims and actions resulting from what I experience during the tour. I agree to not disclose any information about AAAdventure Tours, LLC, including, but not limited to, awareness of its existence, my experiences during the tour, or how I obtained my intimate knowledge of African-American culture. Should I fail to fully participate in each and every aspect of each and every adventure, and/or violate the terms of confidentiality as detailed above, I agree to compensate AAAdventure Tours, LLC for damages in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000.00), payable within seven days of breach of this contract.
In exchange, I am free to take whatever I learn about African-American customs, habits, business, cuisine, language, style, and/or appearance with me at my departure, for my benefit, exploitation, and financial gain, without threat of litigation and/or public derision in any and all forms of media, including social media, electronic media, and other means of mass communication, including those yet unknown. Should such threat of litigation and/or public derision occur after I have implemented, exploited and profited from any of what I’ve learned during the tour about African-American customs, habits, business, cuisine, language, style, and/or appearance, irrespective of whether AAAdventure Tours, LLC is involved in that litigation and/or public derision, AAAdventure Tours, LLC agrees to compensate me for damages in the amount of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000.00), payable within seven days of submitted proof of the aforementioned litigation and/or public derision.
The Elder looked up at Genesis.
“Dying wasn’t a possibility in their minds,” he said. “These were rich white folks, some of them among the most powerful figures in America. If they knew nothing else, they knew they would walk away from this tour alive, flush with the bounty harvested from our people. Dying wasn’t even in the equation because that’s what power and privilege do. They blind you to the truth.”
“What truth is that?” asked the young man.
The Elder’s eyes met his.
“That there are consequences to oppressing and pillaging a people.”
“Word,” the young man nodded. “They probably didn’t focus on nothing anyway once they saw that stuff about how they could get fifty million dollars. They knew they were taking this thing to the hole.” He caught himself. “Wait, sorry…y’all know how I meant that. I mean, they knew they planned on doing everything you asked, they wanted to, that’s why they signed up. They wanted to get in on all this blackness.” He spread his arms wide. “No way would you be able to sue them for damages. They were going through with everything.”
“Right,” Genesis agreed.
“But they could find a way to claim you violated the contract,” he said. “Shit…I mean, fu…I mean, dang. All they had to do was plant something in the media that made fun of them for appropriating and you would’ve had to ante up.”
“But things were never going to make it that far,” Genesis said. “They were never intended to.”
“So basically the fifty million was bait to get ‘em on the hook,” the young man pressed.
“You can’t bait somebody who’s used to taking what’s yours,” said the Elder. “We’ll always be bait to white people. No need to gild the lily.”
The young man didn’t know what that meant, but he didn’t say so.
The three of them stood in silence, watching the children pin the dead.
The children cried as they pinned on the badges. The Elders held the white bodies tight to keep them from swinging. Sobs, moans, and the low humming of old-time spirituals filled the air in the grove.
A twelve-year-old girl, wide-eyed, her hair in two plaits with blue ribbons tied at the ends, wiped at tears as she stood in front of the dead man. She quoted the phrase they’d each been coached to say.
“You are now officially an Expert in the African-American Experience.”
She pinned the badge over the man’s heart. It was the dating app billionaire, his face doubly swollen and discolored in the wake of the beat-down by the cops on Day Four, his neck snapped, his head held steady by rope, skin, and the supporting chest of the Elder behind him.
The tour bus had been pulled up behind the swinging bodies. Gasoline had been poured in a large circle around the bodies and the bus.
The men, women, and children – all related to Genesis in some way or another, the bus driver Keevin, the off-duty NYPD officers, the shotgun wielders and hangmen included – now stood beside an old white church bus, far enough back to bear witness while still remaining safe.
Genesis struck a match, threw it on the gasoline circle, and ran for her life towards the white bus and the others. The fire raced around the circle, then up and across trees, engulfing the bodies and, fairly quickly, the tour bus. It would be a long burn, a slow burn, but no one would see it other than them.
This grove, this place, this was all hallowed ground now. It was the same ground and the same grove where Genesis’ grandfather, Henry Hereford Burrows – the HHB in HHB Enterprises, Ltd. – had been hung sixty years prior, to the day, in August 1954, as an angry white mob of men, women and children watched and cheered. Henry had started a tree care business that outpaced his white competitor because of Henry’s quality of service and a special spray he’d created that controlled fungus and disease. His white competitor didn’t like that at all. The man came to Henry’s house and demanded, at gunpoint, that Henry hand over his customers, his methods, the recipe for the special spray, everything, and get out of the tree care business, effective immediately. Henry agreed in that moment, but went to the police station the next day to press charges against the man. The officer at the front desk refused to allow Henry to file a report.
“Why can’t I?” Henry had asked the man.
“Coloreds aren’t allowed to file reports against whites,” the officer had said.
“But that’s against the law!” Henry declared.
“Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t do it here.”
Henry circumvented the police department, going directly to one of his customers, Claude McCarthy, a white judge. The man always came out and talked with him for a few moments as Henry serviced the trees on his property. He sometimes invited Henry inside for a cup of coffee and a fresh-baked pastry. They were friends, as Henry saw it. McCarthy would certainly help.
“There has to be something I can do to stop it,” Henry had said as he sat in McCarthy’s kitchen that day. “A man shouldn’t be able to just take another man’s business. I don’t care what color he is.”
Judge McCarthy had always liked Henry, but this Henry in front of him now was right full of himself, wasn’t he? He truly thought he was a white man’s equal.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Henry,” McCarthy had said, more than annoyed. He’d stood, indicating Henry’s audience with him was officially over.
“But why?” Henry pressed, nervous sweat beginning to seep through the bib of his immaculate blue jean overalls. Henry Burrows was a proud man, a dignified man, respectful of all he encountered, a good husband, father, and follower of the word of God.
“But I obey the law. I don’t step out of line.“
“You’re stepping out of it now,” McCarthy had warned.
It was then that Henry realized he was in the presence of a man he’d foolishly thought was a friend. He went home, resigned to letting his business be taken, but determined to build up another, this time something different, something that couldn’t be taken away. He was a smart man. He would always make a way for his family.
Unknown to Henry, there’d be no time for that. He’d sufficiently riled up the white folks in town over his attempts to resist surrendering his business. McCarthy, in particular, had been appalled. He was the Exalted Cyclops of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and, as such, the responsibility was upon him to act accordingly.
An army of hooded men had shown up at the Burrows home that night. They burst inside and seized Henry, snatching him from the arms of his wife, deaf to the pleas and cries of his children.
“Please! Stop! Don’t take our daddy!”
They’d brought Henry to this very grove; a grove where other whites – men, women, and children – were already waiting. Henry was soundly beaten, then strung up in a tree as everyone present celebrated his demise.
“How dare this nigger try to fight against me!” shouted the man who’d taken over Henry’s business. He was also a Klansman. His hood was off as he paced in front of the bloodthirsty crowd.
“How dare he claim to do anything better than a white man can!”
Henry’s widow, the wizened woman with the brittle white hair, sturdy limbs, and deep, strong voice, stood alone, stoically watching the white bodies burn. The lynchings, this fire, it was all taking place on land Genesis now owned. Over a thousand acres in Essex County, each plat purchased piece-by-piece with money from her law practice. The bed and breakfast in Park Slope where the AAAdventurers had spent the last six nights belonged to her, too.
Unlike Henry’s lynching, this one had taken place in daylight, not hidden under the cover of darkness by people with hoods covering their faces. The fire would be put out before it spread too far, but for now, for justice, they would all watch it burn.
The fire licked the bodies and caught hold. The Williamsburg wannabe soul food queen did say she wanted black folks to show her how to cook.
The bodies sizzled and popped like greasy meat on the spit.
The fire burned away the dating app billionaire’s lips, exposing his skull and the space where his tooth had been knocked out. It looked like he was grinning.
Perhaps he was. Why wouldn’t he? He was an authority on blackness now, just like he’d wanted. The badge pinned on his chest, though it was burning away, declared this to be true. With his lynching and that of the others, their expertise in the African-American experience was irrefutable, just as the contract had promised. Being burned to a crisp was the perfect visual to punctuate it all.
Genesis watched, the fire’s reflection flickering in her eyes, her arms around her daughter, the girl with the two plaits with blue ribbons tied at the end. “I didn’t lie,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “I didn’t violate the contract. I met all the terms.”
Her daughter looked up, unsure if Genesis was talking to her. Genesis’ eyes met her daughter’s.
“I gave them everything they said they wanted.”
The flames danced in her eyes.
“They got exactly what they paid for.”
What happens to a dream fulfilled?
It burns and sizzles.
Like white folks in the sun.
Copyrighted © 2014 by Lolita Files
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.