As long as I play it cool and keep to myself, I should be fine. The ironic thing is though, at Williamson I don't have to “play it cool” — I’m cool by default because I'm one of the only black kids there. I have to earn coolness in Garden Heights, and that's more difficult than buying retro Jordans on release day.
Funny how it works with white kids though. It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black.
Garden Heights has been a battlefield for the past two months over some stupid territory wars. I was born a “queen” ‘cause Daddy used to be a King Lord. But when he left the game, my street royalty status ended. But even if I’d grown up in it, I wouldn't understand fighting over streets nobody owns.
Listen! The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?
The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me. … “Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."
I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.
But I swear I wanna cuss Khalil out. How he could sell the very stuff that took his momma from him? Did he realize that he was taking somebody else's momma from them? Did he realize that if he does become a hashtag, some people will only see him as a drug dealer?
He was so much more than that.
Williamson Starr doesn't use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn't say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she's the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn't give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.
Hailey texted me immediately after, freaking out. I thought it was because she couldn't believe someone would do that to a kid. No. She couldn't believe I would reblog such an awful picture.
My voice is changing already. It always happens around “other” people, whether I'm at Williamson or not. I don't talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I'm ghetto.
“Hustle! Pretend the ball is some fried chicken. Bet you'll stay on it then.”
The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.
If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?
“Drugs come from somewhere, and they're destroying our community," he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can't get jobs unless they're clean, and they can't pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s ‘Thug Life.’”
[Tupac] explains Thug Life like Khalil said he did. The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. ‘Pac spells out “Fucks” because that kid is looking dead in his face. When Khalil told me what it meant I kinda understood it. I really understand it now.
“That's the so-called gun,” Ms. Ofrah explains. “Officer Cruise claims he saw it in the car door, and he assumed Khalil was reaching for it. The handle was thick enough, black enough, for him to assume it was a gun.”
“And Khalil was black enough,” Daddy adds.
A hairbrush. Khalil died over a fucking hairbrush.
“I've tried to forget it, but I remember everything. The shots, the look on Natasha's face. They never caught the person who did it. I guess it didn't matter enough. But it did matter. She mattered.” I look at Ms. Ofrah, but I can barely see her for all the tears. “And I want everyone to know that Khalil mattered too.”
Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too. Saving them from their wild African ways. Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.
That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?
“I knew that boy. Watched him grow up with you. He was more than any bad decision he made,” he says. “I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death. And at the end of the day, you don’t kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn't be a cop.”
Ms. Ofrah says this interview is the way I fight. When you fight, you put yourself out there, not caring who you hurt or if you'll get hurt.
So I throw one more blow, right at One-Fifteen.
“I’d ask him if he wished he shot me too.”
Being two different people is so exhausting. I've taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I've mastered it. As much as I say I don't have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent. Part of me feels like I can't exist around people like him.
Hailey hands me two pictures. One is Khalil's thugshot, as Daddy calls it. One of the pictures they've shown on the news. Hailey printed it off the internet. Khalil wears a smirk, gripping a handful of money and throwing up a sideways peace sign.
The other picture, he's twelve. I know because I'm twelve in it too. It's my birthday party at this laser tag place downtown. Khalil's on one side of me, shoveling strawberry cake into his mouth, and Hailey's on my other side, grinning for the camera along with me.
Chris and Maya walk through the gate, and my stomach gets all jittery. I should be used to my two worlds colliding, but I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang, some attitude, but not too much attitude, so I'm not a “sassy black girl.” I have to watch what I say and how I say it, but I can't sound “white.”
“Anyway, Chris,” Seven says, “DeVante's got a point. What makes his name or our names any less normal than yours? Who or what defines 'normal' to you? If my pops were here, he'd say you've fallen into the trap of the white standard.”
He said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” We did all that stuff last night because we were pissed, and it fucked all of us. Now we have to somehow un-fuck everybody.
It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It's about way more than that though. It's about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.
It's also about Oscar.
It's even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first—Emmett.