“Today, You’re A Black Revolutionary” by Jade Jones, 2018
Initially published in The Rhumpus, June 27, 2018
Lead Story in the Pen America Best Debut Short Stories, 2019
Winner of the Pen/Robert J. Dau Prize for Emerging Short Story Writers, 2019
I recently acquired a perfect book for those interested in the state of the short story in the USA, Pen America Best Debut Short Stories, 2019. The stories were selected by a distinguished group of accomplished short story writers. Today’s story “Today, You’re A Black Revolutionary” by Jade Jones, 2018 was considered the best story.
The story is told in the second person. Set in South Carolina, twice a day a woman, in her early twenties, walks past a flag pole supporting a Confederate flag.
“YOU WALK BY the flag twice every day. Once on your way to work and once on your way back home. You’ve only recently noticed that it affects your mood. It can be perfectly sunny, just the right amount of breeze to cool your skin and not to sweat out your edges. But there it is. The worst part is, it looks majestic, crinkled in the wind.”..
the blue X on the red background. A color combination that says, “Fuck you and your eyes.” It rebels against the idea of pleasurable aesthetics. You’ve noticed that after seeing the flag, you’re irritable and easily annoyed by strangers on the bus. A blond child incessantly telling knock-knock jokes to her mother—something you would usually laugh about—is just another example of how frustrating the world can be. You keep your grumpy thoughts to yourself.”.
When she gets to work her manager calls her “articulate”, as if her ability to speak well was a surprise in an African American. She has recently moved to South Carolina. At a fair, boys are running around:
““When I get you,” the boy with the wet shirt huffs, “Imma beat you like Emmett Till!” He’s still smiling while he runs. You stop abruptly, and one of the boys has to brake with his heels to avoid colliding into you. It doesn’t seem fair to blame Lil Wayne and his lyrics. Do they know who Emmett Till was? Do they have an image of his battered face, his features beaten into smudges? Or is he just another mythical childhood threat, a boogieman, Bloody Mary?”
Everywhere she is confronted by affronts to her history, by people who probably don’t understand why a Confederate flag is not a harmless celebration of mythical days of past glory but a reminder of pure evil.
The narration reveals she still has a hang up ⎌on a man who has moved on, to make it worse to a lighter skin woman. She also maybe an alcoholic. For sure she and her mother, who wants her to go to medical school, have issues. Jade does a marvelous job of setting out her relationship with her mother and her ex-boyfriend.
One day she does something seemingly out of character that lands her on television being interviewed as if she were a “Black Revolutionary”. I don’t want to tell more of the plot.
The story is insightful and actually a lot of fun to read. The characters are completely real. Telling the story in the second person added interest to the story for me.
I look forward to reading more stories by Jada Jones.
Jade Jones was born and raised in Southern New Jersey. A former Kimbilio Fiction Fellow, she is a graduate of Princeton University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. She is a Lecturer in Writing Arts at Rowan University, where she teaches first year writing and creative writing and serves as the Managing Editor of Glassworks.
A winner of the 2019 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, her work has appeared or is forthcoming on The Rumpus and Catapult.
You can find her on Twitter at @jadereginajones and on Instagram at @jaderjones.