I was going to write about MacWriteII as my M entry, since that will always be my favoritest word processing program, but I decided to write about Marjani instead. I can always write about the old programs and why I far prefer them to the hideous Word, but I might not find a reason to write about Marjani. I also should spotlight more than just one character from the saga of the Troys, the Ryans, and their friends.
Name: Marjani Washington
Date of birth: 1954
Place of birth: Manhattan
Year I created her: 2011
Role: Secondary character
Marjani grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, in a three-bedroom apartment, with her parents, her older sister Subira, and her little brother Zuberi. Her family is a Black Pride family, but definitely not connected in any way to the Black Panthers, as Marjani would stress. She and her siblings all have Swahili names. Marjani’s name means “coral.” She, her mother, and her sister wear their hair in cornrows during a time when many African-American women were still straightening their hair or wearing wigs to try to look more white. They also eat a lot of traditional African foods, celebrate Kwanzaa after its founding in 1966, and use the new term Black instead of Negro. Marjani and Subira go to Howard University so they can be in the majority and feel solidarity at being among so many of their own people.
Marjani meets Adicia on the first day of junior high in September 1966, and from that day forward, Marjani is Adicia’s other best friend besides Julie. She never cares what her new friend’s skin color is, since all that matters is that she’s a nice person and a fellow outcast. They’re sisters in struggle, and Adicia’s white skin certainly never bought her any privileges because she’s a woman and poor.
Marjani was never a planned character in either my original outline for the story, nor in the additional details I came up with during the years it was on hiatus. (The character who became Betsy van Niftrik, for example, and her parents came into my head when I was going over the story in my head and thinking up new storylines and just getting more mature as a writer.) But I’m glad I created her, so Adicia could have at least one friend during her junior high years in Hell’s Kitchen. Her junior high experience was also based more than a little on my own, and I must admit that many of the African-American kids at my tough junior high were actually a lot nicer to me than some of the white kids.
Some favorite/typical Marjani lines:
“Would you like to eat with me? I don’t have no one to sit with either.”
“We don’t use that word in our house anymore. My parents explained that it seems offensive these days, after all those struggles we went through in the last ten years to get equal rights. I know you didn’t mean no harm in using that word, though. It’s not like it’s one of those other words like darky or coon.”
“That’s really weird for a mother to say that stuff about her own daughter. It’s hard enough to be a teenage girl without having extra criticism and pressure from your own mother.”
“You don’t wanna look like those girls. I’m sure mosta ‘em are dressing like that only to get the attention of boys, not to show off their bodies ‘cause they’re proud of how good they look and so liberated they feel comfortable in their own skins. Like Dr. King said, there will one day be a world where we’re judged by the content of our character, not by our skin color, our sex, how developed our bodies are, or what we’re wearing. People should be people and not stereotypes.”
“Your sister Emeline sounds really groovy. She’s read about so much stuff and remembers most of it, and she’s open to just about everything, even if it’s from a different culture or religion. She’ll probably make an awesome librarian someday. Me, I’d like to go to college too, though not Vassar. Maybe the same school Subira’s going to go to in the fall. Howard University in Washington, D.C. It’s a historically Black college, which my family likes. Not that we can’t get a great education at a place like Harvard or Yale, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to be in a majority. I guess it’s the same deal with colleges that are primarily Jewish or Catholic. It’s not about only wanting to associate with my own kind, but I’d feel more comfortable in an educational setting where I could be sure I wasn’t being held down by white teachers who have nothing in common with where I come from.”
“They can’t force you to drop out. You could just live with your brother Allen if they tried that stunt on you. And they’re nuts regardless for thinking a girl in this day and age is supposed to drop outta school and marry some older guy her parents picked for her, and never make a living to support her family. What use would I be to a future husband if I didn’t have an education and a job? Sure I might do the housewife thing when my future kids are little, but no self-respecting Black man should be interested in a woman who just wants to do jack all day while he’s the only one working. And what if God forbid my future husband died young or became too disabled to work like your brother Carlos? I’d need an education and job skills to support the family in his stead.”
“If my family had followed that stupid logic, we’d still be working crummy jobs and letting the white man walk all over us. And your dad wouldn’t have a labor union if his ancestors had just accepted the status quo.”
“My family ain’t involved with the Black Panthers. We agree with some of their beliefs, but we’d never advocate violence to achieve respect and equality. Education and empowerment are the key, not preaching hatred and violence. Adicia is my sister in struggle, since capitalism and the establishment keep us down equally—me as a Black girl from a working-class family, and her as a girl from a poor family. Only rich white Protestant men with money and the socially approved political leanings have historically counted for much of anything in this country. You’ve been used and exploited by the system too, Mrs. Troy. Why else are you a drug addict, a drunk, the mother of nine children, and trapped in dead-end, low-paying jobs and crummy neighborhoods? If you’d been given the same opportunities as a man who comes from a family with money, you mighta only had three or four kids, been able to be a respectable housewife and then moved to a decent job available to women after your kids was all in school, not turned to drugs and drink for escape from reality, and be living in onea the uptown neighborhoods by now, maybe even in a real house you own ‘steada renting an apartment or tenement.”
“Self-preservation and protecting your family line are the two most strongest human instincts. You’d be amazed at the crazy stuff some people have done to save themselves, or at least save their siblings, children, or friends who are as close as family when they knew they was going to die.”
“Trust in yourself. When the time is right and a situation presents itself, things meant to happen, happen.”
“Maybe one day when I have a career, I’ll be able to buy myself some jewelry like that. I ain’t like you. I wanna buy my own jewelry and not depend on a man to give me expensive presents. It’ll be nice if my future husband buys me jewelry, but I don’t expect him to drop serious cash on it if I’m equally capable of buying it. I don’t even know if I want an engagement ring, or at least not one a guy buys for me. I’d rather buy my own, so I don’t have that symbol of being bought and owned by a man.”
(When a saleswoman at Macy’s asks Adicia, Betsy, and Mrs. van Niftrik if Marjani is bothering them) “Boy, are you a racist. Do you know it’s 1972 now? Black and white people can be friends now, you know.” Marjani looks at her name tag. “We won’t be checking out at your register, Florence.”
“You can go back to eating,” Marjani says. “We know all about the starvation rations your pitiful parents make yous guys eat. Boy, your sister’s gonna eat like a queen from now on, since she married that cute rich boy. I wonder if they’re having caviar and stuffed sea urchins, or some similar rich people food, for lunch right now.”
“I ain’t a man, or at least I wasn’t last time I checked,” Marjani says. “Why should I be called a freshman when I’m clearly a woman? I’m glad that finally women are waking up and questioning all this so-called default masculine, androcentric language. There’s no logical need to use a diminutive feminine suffix or prefix neither unless it’s absolutely necessary, like priest versus priestess or lion versus lioness.”
“The justice of the peace didn’t flinch when I signed as onea the witnesses,” Marjani says. “Your cowardly thinking only holds us back from complete equality with the white man. Change never happened ‘cause people just sat down and accepted the status quo.”