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MAN, I’M NOT GOING to any more of these bullshit Punahou parties.”

“Yeah, that’s what you said the last time.”

Ray and I sat down at a table and unwrapped our hamburgers. He was two years older than me, a senior who, as a result of his father’s army transfer, had arrived from Los Angeles the previous year. Despite the difference in age, we’d fallen into an easy friendship, due in no small part to the fact that together we made up almost half of Punahou’s black high school population. I enjoyed his company; he had a warmth and brash humor that made up for his constant references to a former L.A. life—the retinue of women who supposedly still called him long-distance every night, his past football exploits, the celebrities he knew. Most of the things he told me I tended to discount, but not everything; it was true, for example, that he was one of the fastest sprinters in the islands, Olympic caliber some said, this despite an improbably large stomach that quivered under his sweat-soaked jersey whenever he ran and left coaches and opposing teams shaking their heads in disbelief. Through Ray I would find out about the black parties that were happening at the university or out on the army bases, counting on him to ease my passage through unfamiliar terrain. In return, I gave him a sounding board for his frustrations.

“I mean it this time,” he was saying to me now. “These girls are A-1, USDA-certified racists. All of ’em. White girls. Asian girls— shoot, these Asians worse than the whites. Think we got a disease or something.”

“Maybe they’re looking at that big butt of yours. Man, I thought you were in training.”

“Get your hands out of my fries. You ain’t my bitch, nigger … buy your own damn fries. Now what was I talking about?”

“Just ’cause a girl don’t go out with you doesn’t, make her racist.”

“Don’t be thick, all right? I’m not just talking about one time.

Look, I ask Monica out, she says no. I say okay… your shit’s not so hot anyway.” Ray stopped to check my reaction, then smiled. “All right, maybe I don’t actually say all that. I just tell her okay, Monica, you know, we still tight. Next thing I know, she’s hooked up with Steve ‘No Neck’ Yamaguchi, the two of ’em all holding hands and shit, like a couple of lovebirds. So fine—I figure there’re more fish in the sea. I go ask Pamela out. She tells me she ain’t going to the dance. I say cool. Get to the dance, guess who’s standing there, got her arms around Rick Cook. ‘Hi, Ray,’ she says, like she don’t know what’s going down. Rick Cook! Now you know that guy ain’t shit. Sorry- assed motherfucker got nothing on me, right? Nothing.”

He stuffed a handful of fries into his mouth. “It ain’t just me, by the way. I don’t see yon doing any better in the booty department.”

Because I’m shy, I thought to myself; but I would never admit that to him. Ray pressed the advantage.

“So what happens when we go out to a party with some sisters, huh? What happens? I tell you what happens. Blam! They on us like there’s no tomorrow. High school chicks, university chicks—it don’t matter. They acting sweet, all smiles. ‘Sure you can have my number, baby.’ Bet.”

Well …”

“Well what? Listen, why don’t you get more playing time on the basketball team, huh? At least two guys ahead of you ain’t nothing, and you know it, and they know it. I seen you tear ’em up on the playground, no contest. Why wasn’t I starting on the football squad this season, no matter how many passes the other guy dropped? Tell me we wouldn’t be treated different if we was white. Or Japanese. Or Hawaiian. Or fucking Eskimo.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“So what are you saying?”

“All right, here’s what I’m saying. I’m saying, yeah, it’s harder to get dates because there aren’t any black girls around here. But that don’t make the girls that are here all racist. Maybe they just want somebody that looks like their daddy, or their brother, or whatever, and we ain’t it. I’m saying yeah, I might not get the breaks on the team that some guys get, but they play like white boys do, and that’s the style the coach likes to play, and they’re winning the way they play. I don’t play that way.

“As for your greasy-mouthed self,” I added, reaching for the last of his fries, “I’m saying the coaches may not like you ’cause you’re a smart-assed black man, but it might help if you stopped eating all them fries you eat, making you look six months pregnant. That’s what I’m saying.”

“Man, I don’t know why you making excuses for these folks.” Ray got up and crumpled his trash into a tight ball. “Let’s get out of here. Your shit’s getting way too complicated for me.”

Editor’s Note: VALENTINE SEASON SPECIAL-Excerpted from Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race And Inheritance, by Barack Obama, first published in 1995 by Times Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Group, Inc,, New York. This is the first of four selected excerpts from books around the world across cultures to celebrate the season of love.

 

 

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