Buppie Meltdown

Afro-Romantic Monifa Stewart Loses Her Innocence

But it was a hollow victory. Breaking bread with the folk wasn't what it used to be. After that unfortunate incident, everything went downhill. Even her annual shopping trip to the Kwanzaa expo at the Javits Center failed to lift her spirits. So it was true. Black folks were no longer kin, just an ethnic market left to pick dry. Monifa had been in denial for too long.

And so it happened that Monifa, the perpetual Afro-romantic, lost her innocence. She called several friends to announce her retirement. Monifa would join the tired, cynical masses who had given up. You know the kind. Those folks who call Kwanzaa that ''Kum-ba-ya shit'' and go around shaking their heads and saying, ''Your people, your people.'' Those who casually drop the ''N'' word, never offer to help young mothers navigate their baby carriages up the subway stairs, and whose eyes glaze over when anyone wants to talk about why the NAACP is so damn silent lately.

Monifa canceled her subscription to Heart & Soul. Tore up her earth mama, superwoman, girlfriend, and diva cards. The last day of Kwanzaa came and went without fanfare. She packed up her vintage kinara--inherited from her aunt, the '60s cultural nationalist--and settled in for a long winter of solitude.

Yet hardly a week had gone by before the calls started coming. Her Christmas-Kwanzaa tree, stripped of its black and gold ornaments, was still on the sidewalk waiting for the garbage pickup. How about a Brazilian caperina party, or a black ball where everyone could come dressed as their favorite black historical figure? (If you were melanin-deprived, you could come as Carl Van Vechten or Jack Johnson's wife. We can fit you in, no problem.) Monifa resisted the urge to say, as her six-year-old cousin had the nerve to hurl at her recently, ''Speak to the hand.''

Suddenly a force larger than Monifa took over. She felt herself drawn inexplicably to the first-edition copy of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor's Vibration Cooking she kept on display in her country kitchen. After all, the King holiday was coming up. Perhaps something to honor King would be nice, especially in this the age of civil rights retrenchments.

Familiar smells came from the kitchen. Garlic and ginger marinade for the wings. Smoked turkey frying up for the collards. Her husband looked up from his copy of Quarterly Black Review of Books and shook his head. Before he could talk some sense into her, Monifa had left the building....She was last spotted in the Blackberry section of Macy's eyeing the cowrie-shell napkin rings and mumbling to herself, ''You can never have too many of these.''

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