Pearls of wisdom
Literati, Happy Day-after-Easter!
Here is a unique response to our contest prompt: an entry in the form of a play. Tif has been a friend for the last five years, and a contributor and some-time manager of this site when I have gone on so bad tickles from time to time. She took time out from her new full-time job–being mother to Grace Vakilian to send us this. I have many colorful friends, but only a few friends of color–Tiffany is both!
by Tiffany Vakilian
For two Black Women
Cast of Characters
LAYLA: Black woman in early/mid-thirties with professional attire and a big natural curly fro.
CERISE: Black woman in her 40’s with bold fashions and a no-nonsense demeanor.
Set requirements: single set, interior
ACT I – Scene 1
Setting: The HR office of an austere corporate building. Weekday, in the morning. A single table faces stage front. There are two or three chairs.
At rise: LAYLA, stares at a performance improvement (write-up) form. She’s sitting, playing with a string of pearls she’s wearing.
(Enter CERISE, left.)
Hey girl! Look at you rockin’ them boots! It’s too hot for that!
I’m too hot for these boots. Get it straight! Look at you with them pearls. Like Jackie O and Dorothy Dandridge up in here.
(They both laugh)
So, what is going on? Greg and Mr. W. actin’ like your name is on a wanted poster. I’m not even supposed to be in here right now, but Mark sent me to get the monthly so I took the long way and snuck by.
Girl, I can’t with Greg, and he’s mad about it. One of the managers complained because I wore my hair in a wrap on one day, and a fro the next. That is all that happened!
(CERISE looks at her doubtfully.)
That and I wouldn’t sign that daggone IPP they gave me. They just left to discuss “my options” and let me think about my choices.
That explains it.
I just saw Greg. He looked pissed and scared at the same time.
I just can’t care anymore ‘Reesey, I can’t. Maybe I should’ve kept my thoughts to myself. Just sit here and laugh at it all inside my own head.
They already think you crazy. Oop! I gotta go. Can’t get caught in here. We’ll talk off the clock, okay?
Okay. Go on.
Keep your head up girl.
(EXIT CERISE, left)
(Starts playing with her pearls again, then takes a look at the form)
This piece of paper is … rude. I’m sorry, I just have to say it that way. You are a rude instrument of foolishness.
(Mocking the form text)
Stone has a “professional look” and my “look” is not fitting. This POS paper says I need to make a change to my “understanding and execution of SB&L’s professional dress code.”
(Takes another long look at the form, starts talking to it)
I’d like to explain some things to you before we go any further. I’m sure you won’t mind.
I come from a strong background and I’ve made SB&L look good with my work. And I’ve been proud of the diversity I’ve seen in the office.
No, that sounds contrived. I mean, I’ve been glad to see more attempts at open-mindedness, especially in such a touchy, sizzling political climate. But I have to admit. I have had my bones to pick with you. Don’t worry, it’s nothing so blatant as name calling and hate-hazing. We’re not in High School here.
But…well…little things. Like why do both the SVP and CEO feel they have to ask me about what they watch on BET as if I am supposed to know about every show. As if I’m supposed to give them points for watching that channel… Why do they feel like I’m supposed to supply them with commentary on those subjects, and not the M.A.R. report? And on the flip side of that, why is it, when I mention historically accurate things about Black people, do I get such a weird face? You know, the “I don’t know about that” face.
I call them doubtful lips.
I digress, but to be clear, despite my many successes, my various accolades and accomplishments, you brought me into HR to discuss my hair?
I must ask. Are you kidding me?
And another thing, why do you any of you think it’s okay to touch my hair at will? And why do you think that it’s so strange that I don’t like it? What have I done that disallows my personage to have any kind of nuance? Or expression? Or sense of boundary?
I am just exhausted placating the role you made for me. I guess the concept of being both “nappy headed” and “smart” hasn’t quite conquered the corporate arena quite yet. Certainly not at SB&L.
I think you should ask yourself, why is my hair such a problem to you? Does it bring that much attention to harder conversations and concepts? To the boys getting shot, hung, beaten? Am I too much of a reminder of how far you still have to go?
I don’t think SB&L has come as far as they’d like to think.
(Puts form down)
So here we are. If I sign you, my soul will cry out in rage—another rage I’ll have to squelch down. If I don’t sign, you’ll throw every stereotype you can at my curriculum vitae. What’s the point of suing you? You won’t learn from it. I must admit, I am conflicted.
(Begins to play with pearls)
Thanks, Tif…see you at the Fifth Annual Writers’ Reunion in Oceanside this June. Hope you can sing for us again! (Maybe Amazing Grace?)
Now…maybe not so PC.
The baudy, revolutionary Bessie Smith! Master of the not-to-subtle double entendre!
When I lived in the salt-and-pepper (not hard to decipher the meaning here) district in New York’s Upper East Side, a favorite haunt was -appropriately-called “Pearl’s.” Pearl was a great fan and imitator of Bessie Smith, and would lead open mic nights with songs such as this. I must have been a regular, because now, playing this version that I have uploaded, I remember not only every word, but also the missing verse: “My hair is kinda kinky. My man, he don’t care. Any man’s a fool to want a momma for her hair.” Recalling that line as I read Tiffany’s piece prompted me to seek out Bessie. Cultural observation? In the picture of Bessie Smith, her hair is slicked down. Hmnnn…