This is a throwback post from November 2009…hope you enjoy!
This Thanksgiving Day, I had dinner with two of my closest friends, black women who are also scholars, activists and artists. They were waiting patiently for me to finish my “this is why I’m thankful speech” so we could pray and then get down to eating.
“I am thankful for my family, for y’all…you encourage me to speak when I would rather be silent; to write when I would rather watch Law and Order…
“…and finally, I am thankful that, in a world where everyone has a price tag, that I know my true value. Ladies, I am thankful I’m not hookin!!!”
I didn’t expect so much laughter, even though my statement seemed to be out of place. I started writing a paper on pimps and hos (literally) the night before, and just left my office so I could have Thanksgiving dinner. Reading about pimp sticks (two wire hangers twisted together, guaranteed to get any prostitute to hand over hidden cash), made me grateful for my circumstances.
I know why they laughed so hard; I mean, of all the people in the world to turn tricks, I would (seemingly) be the last one. Y’all know my type: I’m Sanaa Lathan’s character, Kenya, in Something New. Christian black woman professional with her legs shut tight; both parents black Caribbean immigrants who made a good life here in America; I have three awesome siblings, (I’m the oldest); and I have a nice apartment and a collection of clothes and shoes that always make me seem overdressed.
I grew up in Brooklyn in the 80s and 90s when it wasn’t the hip urban center that white people from Wisconsin tend to flock to today. The world of drugs and sex may have been happening up the block and around the corner, but it never entered my front yard. I was a nerd who talked about Jesus when guys on the streets were trying to pick me up.
So of course my dear friends, who know all of these facts about me and more, laughed hysterically when I seriously stated “I’m thankful I’m not hooking”. Because selling drugs or my body could never be an option.
Or could it?
Rewind: I was newly 21, senior at a private college, studying for my GREs and sending out carefully crafted essays to graduate programs all over the country. To let loose, my friends and I hit up clubs in Guess miniskirts and too-high heels. I became Shinimiquana, my ghetto alter ego (who had a name that only I could have created). My specialty was leaving men with blue balls and a hopeful, yet pained expression while I walked away laughing. I was cruel. Kind of like Winter in The Coldest Winter Ever but worse because I don’t think she would have ever done something like that.
One of those nights I graciously allowed one of the thugs from the club (yep: tims, fitted, baggy clothes, mumbles) take me to dinner. I knew he was a drug dealer when we stopped at his momma’s house and he displayed all of the money in his pocket. Not a poor man’s bankroll either—he had an endless amount of cash, and encouraged me to watch him count it.
I watched him do a deal with a white man who looked like a skinhead in a well-lit parking lot of a chain restaurant, and then he drove me back to my pretty little private school campus.
On the way back, I took all of my acting skills, honed after years of school and church plays, to pretend that I was a good girl who didn’t just witness a deal. He bought my act. Then he asked:
“so what do you want for Christmas, ma?”
All I could think about was the stack of grad school applications on my desk. $80 for each one, and I hated asking my Dad for the money even though I knew he didn’t mind. I struggled. All that money was sitting right there. My beauty, my attention, my feigned stupidity could have easily bought me several grad school applications. Homeboy had sugar daddy written all over him.
“nah, I’m good.”
I didn’t take his money (and this fool really would have gotten me anything, just to have his “girl” flossin’) because I knew God wouldn’t be very happy with me. The other reason why I didn’t take his money is because I had a Daddy who was going to send me to grad school, scholarship or not.
But if Mr. Drug dealer was my only option…well, who knows what could have happened? When a woman is hungry and her back is against the wall and she has no way of getting money…
Thanksgiving Day: We were three brown skinned women, laughing in a warm, well-lit home with plenty of food to eat. We’re from cities with fairly high crime rates. Different circumstances and we could have been starving, desperate, willing to sell anything to be taken care of.
But by the grace of God, we were all safe, protected, well-loved, and happy.