Last night, after the looting began, Maria and I stood in line at Western Union behind a balding Russian man with really long ear hair like my old piano teacher. It was quiet, and I tried to keep my feet perfectly still so my sneakers wouldn’t squeak across the linoleum. Sometimes, when I have to pee really badly, or when I can’t make a sound, I pretend that I’m a runaway slave and I have to be very still, or else I’ll be discovered. It’s messed up, but it works. Usually, Western Union is a swirl of tongues and transactions, like waiting at the airport, but without any of the excitement of going somewhere. There’s always some baby fussing while some mom screams at her kid, “Get down from there,” which sounds pretty much the same in any language. Yesterday, it was just me, Maria, and the bald man.
Together, we watched as the crowd pulled the white man from his truck and began to beat the crap out of him. The television flickered in fragments across the Russian’s head as he shook it. He turned to look at me.
“See?” he said.
Maria placed her body between the two of us.
“No hablar con el,” she said to me.
The man looked back at the screen.
Christina Hammonds Reed
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her short fiction has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review. She lives in Hermosa Beach, CA.
Patrick Ryan on The Black Kids
Christina Hammonds Reed’s “The Black Kids” is a rare and moving story. It’s about cliques and their divisiveness. It’s about race and preconceived notions. It’s about how rumors can spread like wildfire and be just as destructive. But mostly it’s about identity.
The story takes place during the 1992 L.A. riots. Rodney King, a taxi driver, was brutally beaten by police. The beating was filmed by a bystander, and the footage was released to the public. The riots were a response to the acquittal of all four police officers. Over the next six days, 55 people were killed and many more were injured.
We are proud to be ushering in “The Black Kids” as the next issue of One Teen Story. I hope you are as moved by this story as I was and find it as frighteningly relevant today.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
CHR: When I was younger I fell in love with someone who grew up in circumstances significantly different from my own, and if I’m very brutally honest with myself, I suspect we wouldn’t have been friends in high school, only because I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin at the time. I wanted to explore how two characters who also came from disparate backgrounds might find themselves quietly and unexpectedly coming together during this powder-keg moment in the city’s racial history. Also, I wanted to explore the ways in which the past holds a mirror up to the present.
PR: Have you written other stories with the L.A. riots as the backdrop?
CHR: I haven’t.
PR: In the story, Ashley ends up sparking a vicious rumor about one of the other characters. She tells us that she made “the mistake of wondering [her suspicion that LaShawn took part in the lootings] out loud” to her friends, who then spread this suspicion as fact throughout the school. Was it really a mistake, or was it maybe a little bit on purpose? (What put the suspicion in her head to begin with?)
CHR: On more than one occasion, people I consider friends have said to me, “You’re not really black, though.” Usually the people who say it are mostly well-intentioned, people who would otherwise consider themselves socially conscious, and they consider it a form of compliment with the underlying idea being, “you are not like the rest of them.” But there’s something so pernicious in this idea of black and brown pathology as the default, with those who don’t fall into that narrative as somehow exceptional, especially when you’re younger and maybe you don’t quite have tools in your arsenal to articulate exactly why that idea is wrong. You can be a proud member of your community, while also acknowledging we’re not, and have never been, a monolith. And even those of us who fall into certain stereotypes are individuals with nuanced experiences that have shaped who we are. All this to say, I think Ashley has internalized that seemingly benign form of racism, so her first impulse is to differentiate herself from other black people, and what the riots represent, by articulating her worst fears of what blackness is, as embodied by LaShawn and his new shoes. In so doing, I think she’s very subconsciously trying to prove to her friends that she’s “not like the rest of them”. On a more personal level, she’s jealous of him. He’s a star athlete. He’s handsome. He’s pretty universally liked and about to head off to a great university. She has this multi-layered and complicated response to him, even while being so obviously drawn to him, and I hope it taps into something honest.
PR: What about writing this story surprised you the most?
CHR: How easily it came out. It was the first short story I’d written in a long time after going to film school and focusing primarily on screenwriting over the last several years. I love screenwriting, but I wanted to tell a story without some of its constraints and without all of the gatekeepers involved in getting a story from script to screen.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”
CHR: Love. Love of self. Love of your people. Love of your city.
PR: What are you working on now?
CHR: A collection of short stories, a tv pilot and a feature.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
CHR: I was once on a train next to a dude who’d just finished writing a book. And at the time, I remember being in awe of him for having the discipline to do this thing that I thought of as this huge undertaking, but when I asked him how he did it, he said, “Um. I just sat down and wrote.” It was totally a snarky response, but there’s something in there. He wasn’t in a writing program. He wasn’t interning in New York. He wasn’t attending conferences or anything like that. He was just this kinda arrogant 20-something kid from Cleveland who lived in his parents’ basement and wrote a book. By which I mean, he wasn’t waiting for anybody else’s permission or validation to create. So while it’s not particularly profound, I think there’s something to the whole, “just do it” thing.