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Third Eye

Saturday Night Live

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 3/12/2003

If there's one thing that parents of pre-driver's-licensed teenagers can count on, it's having to provide shuttle service to and from shopping malls. Called to duty last Saturday evening, I wound up at Towson Town Center, and decided on a whim to hang around until my kid and her small crew had no more jingle in their pockets. It was 6 p.m., and I figured they'd last two hours, max.

After arranging a rendezvous place and time, I split off and headed for the food court. Like most midriff-challenged adults in similar straits, I figured a slice of pizza wouldn't hurt since I'd walk--uh, stroll--off some calories afterward. Alone and situated at a corner table near an automated-teller machine and an escalator (respectively, my worst enemy and best friend at the mall), I enjoyed some leisurely people-watching--a rarity for on-the-run shoppers like myself.

Not surprisingly, much of what I saw and heard--the baggy gear and odd slang--reflected the changing times. More unexpected were sudden thoughts about how changing times can make us grown folks ponder our youth and how we've changed.

For instance, while scanning the throngs of people--five youngsters for every adult--that wandered every which way in the mall, my eyes landed on a blonde girl who looked maybe 22. Teetering on five-inch heels, the girl tittered when a guy who appeared to be her fella--obviously taken with his date's tight, sheer, pink nylon flower-print dress with a frill trim--grabbed the girl's tush and whispered something in her ear. They headed to the cash machine where, while she made a withdrawal, he rubbed her behind as though it were Buddha's belly.

As a mother, I imagined shooting eye-daggers at the young man while urging the young girl to get a better sense of her self-image and worth, especially in such a public place. Just then, though, I recalled an afternoon trek through Manhattan with my young beau at 18, wearing a pair of spike-heeled mules and enough red lipstick to paint a mural. Then, in front of God and everybody, we sloppy-kissed on the steps of a church (well, he had just proposed).

Ignoring a crick in my knee, I rose from the table, silently wished the young couple well, and went to browse in stores while bargaining with my metabolism.

Walking around, it became clear that on Saturday nights at the mall nobody buys bed sheets, blenders, or wind chimes--things favored by adults who want to spruce up their homes. No, nights like these are the stuff of athletic-apparel designers' dreams. This is when young female fashionistas swarm to buy whatever reminds them of J.Lo, Ashanti, and Missy "New Waistline" Elliott. And this is when clusters of young fellas gather to reinforce the Venus-and-Mars gender theory: the smaller and tighter girls' clothing, the looser and longer theirs.

Sitting cross-legged on a wooden bench, I honed in on the young black men in particular. They are part of a dwindling population, news headlines and public studies tell us. These young men are the reason why women on streets and in elevators clutch their purses tighter, and why some suspecting minds would surmise that, between them all, there must be a kilo of crack cocaine in this mall at this moment. It takes me 15 minutes or so to start ignoring all the reasons I've read or heard in the media why young, African-American males should either be feared or feared for.

Eyes closed for a moment, I remembered playing four-square with boys like this, except they wore Afros, polyester knit pants, and moo-moo shirts instead of baseball caps, braids, and knee-length jerseys. Some of them carried "pieces," not Glocks; they sold "joints," not trees; and many of them died, went away, or straightened up their act. We girls didn't fear them because we knew them; tonight, I watch and listen to youngsters I don't know.

Before long, I hear snippets of talk and laughter about girls and perfume, and more talk about "going with" girls. Finally, to my utter amusement, there is talk about mothers--otherwise known as playing the dozens, a rite of passage in many black communities where verbal repartee once outpaced violence. Though I'm now a mother, the cultural continuity of such child's play was heartwarming.

At the appointed time and place, my kid showed up with her crew of giggling girls, all comparing purchases as if they were grades after final exams. Who got the best sale? The cutest blouse? No, I thought, the mall isn't like a skating rink, a bowling alley, or other recreational outlets designed for young people to hang out at on Saturday nights. But here, I'd enjoyed watching them do their thing, like I once did mine.

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Sappy Anniversary (5/12/2004)
Suburban flight isn't the only reason many schools have resegregated almost organically, especially in cities, like Baltimore, with vast "minority" populations.

Om (5/5/2004)
Efforts to snuggle closer to the Big Dawg seem more doable--not to mention, if heaven awaits, more worthwhile.

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