the black cell excerpt

Several televisions around the bar showed the latest poll results of the upcoming election. The Republican candidate, Reginald Sumter, or The Sump, as his followers called him, was riling people up at a rally in Memphis. His blond pompadour remained stiffly in place as he gestured wildly in what looked like a bizarre dance. The crowd loved it, and although there was no sound, it was clear they were screaming and shouting their approval of him. Behind him stood several local sheriffs and police officers. While they did not scream and chant, the look of admiration and devotion on their faces reminded Lisa of idol worship. Her stomach churned.

Unfortunately, Lisa’s  mother liked Reginald Sumpter, thought he would be good for the country, and contributed significantly to his campaign. Lisa felt instinctively there was something almost obscene about her mother’s devotion to this politician, but she didn’t know how to put her concerns into words. Lisa avoided discussing politics with her mother. She always folded under Diahann’s strong opinions. Even her father had stopped talking about politics in the house. During the 2020 election, Diahann had been incensed to discover her husband voted for Democrat Daniel Jackson, the second Black president, instead of voting for the white Republican incumbent. She had barely spoken to her husband for months after the election. Four years later, Grant Preston knew better than to once again incite Diahann’s wrath.

LaTanya elbowed her way through the crowd, carrying two glasses of red wine. She set them down on the high table and pulled her petite frame up onto the stool with a sigh. She followed Lisa’s gaze up to the television. Instantly, her nose wrinkled, and her full lips turned down at the corners.

“Oh, that fool!” she exclaimed. “There is no way he can win. I don’t even know why the press gives him so much airtime. It’s sickening.”

Lisa shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I don’t know. I know some folks who really like him. It’s a little frightening.” She thought of Danielle. For the hundredth time she wondered why she was friends with her.

“Like who?” LaTanya demanded. “Who do you know that would actually vote for that ass?”

Lisa hesitated and looked away.

“Oh, no!” LaTanya scoffed. “Don’t tell me.” Her voice became high-pitched and perky. “You must be talking about Dan-i-elle.” Her eyes rolled upwards.

Lisa didn’t respond. She was never sure what to say when Danielle gushed on about Reginald Sumter, how he would change the country, bring back law and order and solve every problem known to man. Sumpter said he would return “America to Americans” and that he would stop the “illegals” from taking American jobs. He wanted to cut all social programs and “instill a strong work ethic” in U.S. citizens. “If people don’t work, they shouldn’t eat,” he said, and he was determined to prosecute all people who claimed illness and disabilities were preventing them from earning a living. “Laziness” would become a crime. We would all see that when the handouts went away, and hunger took their place, people would suddenly find they were able to work after all. “Only then,” he proclaimed, “would America truly be the great nation God intended her to be.”

Lisa knew many of the problems he focused on involved oppressing people who looked like herself, and making white people more dominant than they already were. She knew his supporters, nicknamed The Alt, could be found in every corner of government, law enforcement, criminal justice, and business. She knew The Alt wanted the return of a completely white America, but she didn’t know how to put her feelings into words when with Danielle. She felt like a traitor defending Danielle to LaTanya, who did not hide how she felt about the white woman, even when she was present.

LaTanya shook her head. “I’m going to leave you alone, but I just want to remind you that you’re nothing but Danielle’s pet Negro. She likes being able to say she has a Black friend. She will turn on you faster than your hair turns back on a humid day in August. I guess you’ll just have to learn that for yourself.”

“Well . . . there are Black people who like Sumpter, too,” Lisa pursed her lips, looking down at her hands.

LaTanya studied Lisa for a moment and sighed. “Ok. I’m done. I’m not talking about your momma. You have to figure that one out for yourself.” LaTanya smoothed her hand over her short natural cut. With her caramel-colored skin and petite frame, she looked like a teenager, instead of a 31-year-old. Only her curvy figure and worldly air revealed she was, in fact, an adult. Diahann did not like LaTanya at all, and felt she came from a background that was beneath Lisa’s station in society. This was the only instance in Lisa’s life where she defied her mother; she and LaTanya had been friends for the past ten years, since meeting in a new teachers’ program. The only fight Lisa had ever had with her mother was about having LaTanya as her maid of honor. Lisa won, but that fight almost ended up in a cancellation of the wedding because Diahann threatened to withdraw her substantial financial support. The compromise had been that LaTanya could be in the wedding, but none of LaTanya’s friends or family could attend, even though LaTanya’s family had treated Lisa like one of their own since they met.