by Nane Quartay
“You ready?” Ernest asked me again.
“Why don’t you catch me when I’m not.”
I’ve got a growing dislike for this guy. He’s weak minded, which I will use to shake his game. “I’m about to sell you a dream, son.” A scowl passes over his face before he starts dribbling the basketball between his legs.
“You ain’t selling me shit, nigga!”
Damn! There’s a Negro in my nightmares!
“Why I gotta be all that?” I can’t help but smile at him. “Is that how you talk to somebody who got more handle than you, son? Stop hating!”
“Ain’t nothin’ to hate on, nigga!” He stopped dribbling and straightened up, holding the ball on his hip. “You might be some shit where you from but right now that ain’t where you at. This here is streetball nigga. Ain’t no refs out here. You a star when you playin’ white boy ball– but out here!” He gestured toward the people standing around the court. “Out here you just another negro, nigga!”
Ronnie and his crew walked over to us.
“Yo, my man,” he said to Ernest. “What’s up with all these ‘niggas’ you using out here? Haven’t you heard that we buried that word? Had a funeral for it and everything. Why do you want to bring it back from the dead?”
A look of disbelief passed over Ernest’s face. “Nigga, please! Some old folks like you buried it. That don’t mean nothing to me.”
“Maybe not,” Ronnie’s voice was firm. “But could you please refrain from using that word out here? This is common ground. Respect the Black folks out here.”
Ernest started dribbling the ball again. “And you don’t even think about telling me what to say. Not ever.” A defiant glare accompanied his words.
Ronnie was one of the few brothers from the neighborhood who had escaped the projects with a basketball scholarship to the University of Virginia. A knee injury ended his dreams of playing pro ball but he remained in school and obtained his degree before returning to the hood, determined to make a difference in our lives somehow.
“Young un!” Ronnie said. “You hurt my heart. I would never tell you how to express yourself. I just wish you had the intelligence to express your Negritude some other way.”
Ernest rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Well, I’m intelligent as hell! So I don’t know what you talking about with that Negro-tude joint.”
“You ever heard of Nostradamus?” Ronnie said. Ernest rolled his eyes before Ronnie continued. “He used to predict the future – he was psychic.”
“So what? You Negrodamus now?”
“Negrodamus?” Ronnie mused. “Yeah! I likes that. But no …I’m not psychic. But I can see into your mind just like you got a glass forehead. I can predict that if you don’t learn from the mistakes of your past that you are destined to repeat them. And ‘nigger’ is a mistake.” Ronnie’s expression flattened as he looked at Ernest. “Even you should be able to see that. And when it catches up to you, it may be to late for the wiser.”
Ernest dribbled the ball once more before stopping to spin it on his fingertip. “You ready to play or not nigga?””
“You really need to ask yourself that question,” Ronnie said before I could answer. “I know you got to be ‘hard’ out here – hardcore as a matter of fact – but you need to keep it down, bruh. At least care enough to respect yourself.” Ernest was still spinning the ball on his fingertip, concentrating on balancing the ball as he spun it with his other hand. Ronnie reached out and snatched it. “Why do you think that white boy got on the radio and came come out of his mouth with ‘niggas’ and ‘nappy headed hoes’? Huh? Because you young uns have given him the okay to say such things by perpetuating the negativity.” Ronnie’s stony glare caught Ernest. “You are not a nigger.”
“Whatever, nigga,” Ernest said. “That white boy say what he wanna say. That’s on him.”
“You just make it easier for him.”
“Look. I’ll take care of him when he step to me with that whack shit. But I betcha ten dollars he won’t step up in my face with no bullshit. Period!” Ernest spread his arms wide. “And what does respect have to do with it? Ain’t no disrespect. Jeremiah know that there ain’t no disrespect.”
I had to agree.