Growing Up a Black Girl: On Down by the River & Other Handclap Games.


Growing up a Black girl meant that your first introduction to the song "Rockin Robin" consisted of rhythmic hand motions and beads that sounded like the freedom of summer.  It meant that all the little birdies on Jay Bird street love to hear the robins go kiss my feet.  It meant that a fifth person (the little homie) was always on deck waiting for your demise so that she could show off her newly developed skill set.  She'd been practicing.  It meant that words may hit too close to home during the "Slide" prelude when I merrily chant that your momma ain't got no hair on the side.

It meant that your back was aching and your bra was too tight and your booty was shaking from the left to the right.  Though, never around your mother, who'd make you sub the word bra for belt.  According to her, you hadn't even developed enough for training bras yet.

"Shame" meant being exposed to police brutality long before you knew Trayvon and Sandra and Alton.   

Shame, shame, shame 

I don't wanna go to Mexico no more, more, more

There's a big fat policeman at the door, door, door

He grabbed me by the collar

Made me pay a dollar

I don't wanna go to Mexico no more, more, more.

It meant making your brother learn the original handclap, and the agonizing pain of his knuckles ignorantly slapping against yours.  It meant converting his initial reluctance into him not wanting to stop until he counted twelve perfect palm presses and twelve perfectly synced backhand motions.

It meant making up handclaps when traveling for family reunions and church conventions.  It meant that you listened closely to the radio during family road trips for Aaliyah to cue that, "Oh boy, I been watching you like a hawk in the sky," staccato.  It meant that handclaps were as sacred as family recipes, and if you caught a demonstration at the playground you were special and dared not tell a soul.

It meant that your older cousin always cheated during Down by the River, the only hand game that everyone could play.  She'd draw out the E-I Pop-I, Oh-I Pop-I, Eye-I Pop-I ... and then politely POW the shit out of your unsuspecting hand.  Eventually, you'd grow to become the sly matriarch of the group, prying on the young ones to end the game as quickly as possible.

Toi BlyComment