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Johnson, Brianna, How to Think Like a Black Person


Brianna Johnson
Age: 17, Grade: 12

School Name: Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Erika Drezner

Category: Personal Essay & Memoir

How to Think Like a Black Person

Being black is great for many reasons. We practically created the arts and genres of music and dance. We are innovative and skilled and we fo-sho know damn well how to properly make mac and cheese.1 
However, sometimes being black causes you to be stressed and forces you to think too much, leading to high blood pressure and often, in worst-case scenarios, death. But that thinking can often save your life. You are most definitely reading this like, “She really dragged that” or “Is it really that deep?” My answer to you doubtful souls is yes the hell it is. This is how I think and I am a black person so trust me on this. There are many scenarios in which this type of thinking is crucial. 

  1. Breakfast

You woke up later than humanly possible for you to catch your school provided transport from “the hood” and of course, you did not eat breakfast because you just could not have Eggo for the 55th time this week. You sit through first and second period waiting for break so you can head out to grab a baconeggandcheeseonaroll with the $5 sitting in your wallet. While waiting, you slip into a daydream about the New York staple breakfast with melted swiss cheese and juicy pork bacon you will have in 50 minutes and where you will go to get it.
There are two options:

  1. You can walk to 7th Ave Gourmet Deli and get a baconeggandcheeseonaroll that will be $5.50, beg your friend for 50 cents, come back with no change but an okay sandwich with turkey bacon (not the tasty artery clogging kind) or…
  2. You can walk to Flatbush and get a baconeggandcheeseonaroll from the affordable deli and likely get stopped by truancy officers2 on Sterling Place just like two black seniors from your school told you they were stopped at the same spot on their way to the same deli. Naturally, you will be stopped because you have no bookbag on at 10:55 am and you should be in school.3 You want to prove you go to the Private White Institution of Brooklyn and not John Jacob Academy4 so you try to reach for your school ID but if you reach and they feel threatened they can shoot and you can die all because your greedy black behind wanted a baconeggandcheeseonaroll during the school day.

After snapping back to reality you realize class ended a while ago and the thought of bullet holes in your stomach is not worth getting a sandwich for so you can wait until lunch. You may be hungry but you alive, right?

2. The Function
So your white friend (let’s call her Sarah) invites you and the girls to a function5 on Saturday. It is being thrown by her friend6 who might be a college student. Everyone else seems on board but your blacktution is stopping you. There are too many flags. Like any black mom, you search up the address provided by Sarah. It leads to an apartment complex in Williamsburg. You ask a million questions: “Who gon be there? Whose apartment is this?” Sarah assures you she knows the people7 but your blacktution tells you otherwise. The day of, the address changes. Twice. It’s now in a warehouse in Greenpoint8 and alcohol is in the mix. You see so many reasons to not attend but here are the main two that stop you from going at all:

  1. You go to the function in the warehouse and everyone is drinking and smoking themselves to nowhere. Someone complains about noise in the warehouse and calls the police, and they show up and say “NYPD! OPEN UP!”, bust down the door, and attempt to arrest everyone there for drinking underage. Then someone (most likely someone who runs the party) comes up reaching in their pocket for their “permit” for the warehouse, the cops get scared and shoot up the place and you die from a stray bullet. 
  2. You don’t go to the function but your girls do and for the most part have a good time until, all the events of Part A occur and your girls end up dead because they were too drunk to follow you outside to safety. Now your entire circle of black female friends is dead and you turn to protest in the streets screaming, “No justice! No peace!” at the 94th Precinct. The protests get violent and the cops start to shoot out into the angry crowd. Lucky you. You still die.

After considering these options, you tell your parents about the function, they call the girls’ parents and stop everyone from ending their life trying to have a “good time.” Sarah still goes to the function—she would not have been shot anyway.9

3. Subway

You are leaving a fantastic DAIS10 meeting at 9pm. You and all your friends from DAIS go to McDonald’s for post-DAIS links, bumping ghetto music11 through the Upper East Side. You and your best black guy friend soon part ways from the group and walk towards the Q train to head home. As soon as you get down there, you both realize you have no cash, no functioning MetroCard and no way to get home without the two. You consider going under the turnstile but right as you do you see the MTA ad: “FARE EVASION WILL COST YOU.” Cost your life. Here’s how:

  1. You go under the turnstile to unsuspectingly be faced with a policeman. Undercover. They ask you what you were doing skipping through the turnstile and your black guy friend who is very indignant and very pro-black says, “We just tryna get home.” The cop looks at him suspiciously, tells him to turn around and begins to frisk him, feeling his pick12 in his pocket. Your black guy friend says, “We’re kids man. What the hell?” and the cop turns to you quickly saying, “She is not a kid. She looks 24.”13 You freeze in shock as you are 17 but have no way of proving that right now to the already aggravated cop who would definitely shoot you if you reached for ID. He tells you and your black friend to wait while he calls for backup. Your black friend pulls out his pick and in a flash— he’s dead. The cop looks at you knowing what he has done and shoots you so there are no witnesses. Congrats: you are worth $2.75.
  2. You don’t hop the turnstile but instead start to ask around for a swipe as white people pass you in the 96th Street station. They look at you and keep walking. One lady gets scared when you tap her shoulder to ask again because she could not hear you the first time. Her fear alerts the nearby K-9 that is there with his police officers who both come over, pin you down with their knees, and hold you there on the dirty subway floor until you stop breathing. That woman feels safe now because she didn’t have to sacrifice $2.75 to the dangerous black girl and her friend after her daily shopping spree at LOFT. 

Coming back to reality, you and your friend decide not to hop the turnstile. You leave the station and find a sketchy ATM to take out cash and get you home. You get home by 11:30, might soon become a victim of debit card fraud, and get yelled at by your parents but that’s much better than being dead over $2.75. Ain’t it?

End notes:
1 Don’t even think about adding raisins and ketchup Susan. Don’t even think about it. 
2 Fancy word for police who lock up kids.
3 Fancy word for you are black and look suspicious kid.
4 School down the avenue from your school where the black people who couldn’t play it up enough ended up.
5 A sketchy “party” where everything but partying exists.
6 Sketchy girl she met at a function. Once.
7 No the hell she don’t.
8 The middle of whoknowsthehellwhere, Brooklyn.
9.  Imagine the headlines. White girl killed by NYPD. The whole police system would be shutdown. 
10.  Diversity Awareness Initiative for Students—the most exciting place to spend a Friday night with other students of color from private schools to talk about the things your white schools  can’t handle talking about because it makes [white] people uncomfortable.
11.  UES white families hate hearing crowds of black and brown kids chanting the lyrics “Faneto”by Chief Keef on a Friday night.
12.  Black beauty tool used to comb out afros, flatops and many other black hairstyles. 
13. Stupid gyal,  Mom told you not to wear those hoops and dark lipstick.