by Ben Burgess Jr
GENRE: Contemporary Fiction
When the prestigious law firm of Wayne, Rothstein, and Lincoln catches two major cases. Bill O'Neil and Ben Turner are tasked to handle these racially charged litigations. The cases hit emotional chords with the two lawyers. Will the racial tension of their cases destroy them or make them stronger?
"Stop running like a bitch, White boy," Akeem yelled.
I ran at full speed. Some of the neighborhood kids chased me from school all the way to my apartment building. Fighting my way home after school had become an everyday occurrence. They picked on me daily for no reason other than me being White and living in their neighborhood.
One of the boys tackled me from behind and held my arms down. Eight kids my age circled me.
"Fuck him up," Akeem ordered.
Jalen sucker-punched me, while Draper yanked me to the ground. All of them stomped and kicked while I tried my best to protect my face and head. I heard a police siren. A cruiser with flashing lights screeched to a halt.
"Shit, that's O'Sullivan. Let's bounce," Akeem said.
The group quickly dispersed.
"Run. Scatter like fucking roaches, you bunch of savages," O'Sullivan said, sprinting out of his cruiser and swinging his nightstick.
I was left bloodied and beaten, curled up in the fetal position on the concrete. My hands shook. Tears streamed down my face. A muscular cop with a receding hairline and a black, bushy mustache held out his hand and helped me up. He stood up straight, and his eyes widened when he said, "You'll be all right, kid. Stop crying; be tough. What's your name?"
I quickly wiped my face. "Billy O'Neil."
"Ah, an Irish boy, huh. What are you doing around here?"
"I live here," I said, pointing to my building.
"You live in this neighborhood with the niggers?"
Mom told me never to use that word, so I just repeated, "I live here."
"What does your dad do?"
"I never met him, sir."
"What about your mom?"
"She's sick… She has multiple sclerosis."
"Jesus, why were these punks fighting with you?"
"Because I'm White. They said Blacks have been getting beaten up by Whites and even worse for no reason for years. They figured they could take some of that revenge out on me."
"What? You see, this is why you shouldn't be around these savages. I'm taking you to your apartment. Come on."
We walked inside the building.
"What floor do you live on?" he asked.
"The third floor."
He pulled on the elevator door.
"It's broken," I said.
"Of course it is. I don't know how you and your mother live with these animals."
We walked to my floor, and I opened the door to my apartment. My mom was grimacing in pain, bent over in the kitchen. I ran over and helped her up.
"Mom, are you OK?"
She looked up at my bruised face. "My God, are those boys still beating on you?"
"Mom, don't worry about that. How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right. Did you get in trouble? Why is there a cop with you?"
"How are you, ma'am? I'm Officer O'Sullivan from the one-one-four precinct. I stopped those niggers from attacking your son, and I figured I'd introduce myself."
Mom glared at him after his statement.
"Don't worry, Ms. O'Neil. Billy told me his father wasn't around, so I'll make sure to keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble. Have a good day, ma'am."
He left. I helped my mom to the couch in the living room.
"Sit down, Billy."
I did as she instructed and sat beside her.
"Billy, there are bad people in every race. I never want to hear you refer to Black people as the N-word. Don't ever use it. That term can be applied to any race, but its history is ugly. I know it's hard not to be angry. It'd be easy to just hate all Black people for what they're doing to you, but don't become a bigot like Officer O'Sullivan."
"Mom, they're beating me up every day because I'm White."
"I know, and it's terrible. I'm going to talk to their parents, but in the meantime, I need you to endure until they get to know you. Things will be better. You'll see that you're not their enemy, and vice versa."
I rolled my eyes.
"There was a time when I hated minorities and thought I was better than them, but life has a way of humbling us all," Mom said.
"What happened?" I asked, grimacing as I clutched my side.
"Back then, I used to bad-mouth any race that wasn't White. I wouldn't acknowledge or talk to them at work. When I married your father, that first year he lost his job. He couldn't find a new one, which forced me to work double shifts at my housekeeper job at the Hilton. I struggled to take care of both of us. There were times when I could barely keep a roof over our heads and had to choose between paying the rent or buying food. We went to bed hungry often. Our church, our neighborhood, our people, knew we were struggling, and they did nothing to help us. When I couldn't pay tithes every month, our church excommunicated us. Our so-called friends and community stuck up their noses and called us White trash. To them, we were no better than 'N-words.' Your father and I didn't have much family, and the little family we did have lived in different states and were broke too. You wanna know who picked us up when we were at rock bottom?"
"Who helped?" I asked.
"The Black women that I worked side by side with every day, the same people I used to bad-mouth and wouldn't talk to, put together a collection and gave us money to help with our rent, food and clothes to survive."
I slowly nodded.
"I realized I was wrong and needed to change. In time, those boys will see they need to change too," Mom said.
"I hope they figure it out before they kill me."
"I'm sure they will. Clean yourself up and start your homework while I work on dinner."
I did as my mom asked.
Later that night, I heard what sounded like crying coming from my mom's bedroom. I crept to her door and slowly pushed it open. I peeked my head in and saw my mom sitting on the edge of the bed crying.
"Are you OK, Mom?"
Mom wiped her eyes and kissed my forehead. She put her nose against mine and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I can't give you a better place to live or picked a better father for you." Mom's lips trembled. She turned away from me so I wouldn't see her crying. "I'm sorry I couldn't give you a better life. I hate that you have to suffer because of me."
"I'm fine, Mom. We'll be OK."
I knew I had to be strong for my mom.
As promised, Mom talked to Akeem's mother about my daily ass whoopings, but they didn't stop. She was determined to befriend Jalen and Akeem's mothers and stop the bullying once she had a better relationship with them. The first month, every day whenever Mom saw them talking outside on the bench in front of our building, she went up to them and said hello, and every day they ignored her. Despite them snubbing her, she still smiled and spoke to them. Eventually, she got the women to engage in conversation, and slowly but surely, they bonded when they realized my mom's life was similar to their own.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Ben Burgess Jr is the author of the award-winning novels "Monster," "Wounded," "Love and Happiness," " Daddy's Girl," and the new novel "Black and White." He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess Jr uses his love of writing to inspire and influence youths to strive for what they believe in and to never give up on their dreams. His novels "Monster" and "Wounded" are currently used in schools on the lower east side of Manhattan. Ben Burgess has a BA degree in Business Management and an MA degree in Educational Leadership. He is the proud father of his daughters Jaelynn and Jaclyn and he is active in trying to improve urban neighborhoods and communities.
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Black and White by Ben Burgess Jr. is an adult contemporary urban fiction tale that follows two lawyers who have been assigned career- and life-changing cases that turn their lives upside down. Not only are they competing against each other for a chance at partnership, but their personal lives are even more stressed by the choices they must make. The challenges of race relations and ingrained prejudices are explored and the difficulties of being part of an interracial relationship are delineated with perspectives from each participant.
This story provides an intriguing look at the different aspects of bigotry. There are several sides to every story being told, and the reader is reminded that it is important to know all of the facts before making judgment—not that any of us ever do know all of the facts. The first-person point of view switches from character to character, which was disconcerting to me at first, but I was fascinated to see the story unfold to show why each person was the way he or she was. The investigation into the two very different court cases and the changing defendants’ attitudes give depth to the story and the parallel revelations of the events that form the main players' characters provide a microcosm of society. This story explores the concepts that divide us yet unite us as a society and will undoubtedly be dismaying yet eye-opening to some.
I wasn’t crazy about some of the outcomes and I think a couple of the characters did not get what they deserved, not to mention how dismaying the hardheaded attitudes of some folks are. It is a sad but accurate reflection of human nature, that those who should be most understanding about how awful it is being judged for the color of one’s skin or one’s background are just as prone to having their own bigoted attitudes. I think the title says it all, and reminds us that things that seem black and white…aren’t necessarily that easy to judge.
A copy of this story was provided to me for review