On Being Young--a Woman--and Colored. by Marita O. Bonner reprinted from The Crisis (December 1925)
Marita O. Bonner, winner of the first prize essay in our contest was born and educated in Brookline, Massachusetts. In her junior year at Radcliffe she was admitted to the famous course in writing given by Professor Charles Townsend Copeland, a rare distinction since this course is limited to the sixteen best writers, graduates and undergraduates in each college year. One of her sketches, "Dandelion Season," was selected to be read annually to Radcliffe classes. She holds the degree of A.B. and is a teacher of English in the Armstrong High School of Washington, D.C.
You start out after you have gone from kindergarten to sheepskin covered with sundry Latin phrases.
At least you know what you want life to give you. A career as fixed and as calmly brilliant as the North Star. The one real thing that money buys. Time. Time to do things. A house that can be as delectably out of order and as easily put in order as the doll-house of "playing-house" days. And of course, a husband you can look up to without looking down on yourself.
Somehow you feel like a kitten in a sunny catnip field that sees sleek, plump brown field mice and yellow baby chicks sitting coyly, side by side, under each leaf. A desire to dash three or for ways seizes you.
But you know that things learned need testing--acid testing--to see if they are really after all, an interwoven part of you. All your life you have heard of the debt you owe "Your People" because you have managed to have the things they have not largely had.
So you find a spot where there are hordes of them--of course below the Line--to be your catnip field while you close your eyes to mice and chickens alike.
If you have never lived among your own, you feel prodigal. Some warm untouched current flows through them--through you--and drags you out into the deep waters of a new sea of human foibles and mannerisms; of a peculiar psychology and prejudices. And one day you find yourself entangled--enmeshed--pinioned in the seaweed of a Black Ghetto.
Not a Ghetto, placid like the Strasse that flows, outwardly unperturbed and calm in a stream of religious belief, but a peculiar group. Cut off, flung together, shoved aside in a bundle because of color and with no more in common sense.
Unless color is, after all, the real bond.
Milling around like live fish in a basket. Those at the bottom crushed into a sort of stupid apathy by the weight of those on top. Those on top leaping, leaping; leaping to scale the sides; to get out.
There are two "colored" movies, innumerable parties--and cards. Cards played so intensely that it fascinates and repulses at once.
Movies worthy and worthless--but not even a low-caste spoken stage.
Parties, plentiful. Music and dancing and much that is wit and color and gaiety. But they are like the richest chocolate; stuffed costly chocolates that make the taste go stale if you have too many of them. That make plain whole bread taste like ashes.
There are all the earmarks of a group within a group. Cut off all around from within a group. Cut off all around from ingress from or egress to other groups. A sameness of type. The smug self-satisfaction of an inner measurement; a measurement by standards known within a limited group and not those of an unlimited, seeing, world ... Like the blind, blind mice. Mice whose eyes have been blinded.
Strange longing seizes hold of you. You wish yourself back where you can lay your dollar down and sit in a dollar seat to hear voices, strings, reeds that have lifted the World out, up, beyond things that have bodies and walls. Where you can marvel at new marbles and bronzes and fiat colors that will make men forget that things exist in a flesh more often than in spirit. …