Internal Dialogue: a Story in Three Acts

By Jefferey Spivey
Art by Nico

ACT I

EXT. SOCIETY, 1984 - 2002

A MONTAGE, the making of a respectable Black boy:

-- His all-American name is scrawled on a birth certificate, Jefferey.

-- Kindergarten Jefferey pees on the side of his elementary school building as a teacher yells “no!” and wags her finger at him as if he’s a disobedient bulldog.

-- By fifth grade, he’s as straight-edged and flat as freshly permed hair. He lands in the gifted class, where they learn the choreography from Janet Jackson’s “If” video in lieu of civics and probability.

-- Feeling himself, High School Jefferey asks a white girl to Prom. He is a classic overachiever: class president, varsity hurdler, A+ student, exquisite kiss-ass. But the girl’s parents forbid them from going together because...you know. He is excellence personified, but he can’t be the boy next door.

INT. IDYLLIC HIGH SCHOOL, AUDITORIUM - DAY

The stands are full of bored kids and sentimental parents. High School Jefferey struts to the center of the auditorium floor to receive a certificate. Then another and another and another.

Close on his father’s face as tears form but don’t fall.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

My father is emotional because he has successfully raised a Black boy who is superlative, decorated, talented enough to be magical. But he won’t let these white folks see him cry.

EXT. MAJORITY-WHITE FLORIDA COLLEGE, COURTYARD - DAY

Higher Education Jefferey walks through the palm tree-lined campus, one of few dark faces.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

As a freshman, I make a joke that I’m the only Black student without a basketball scholarship. It’s offensive and not exactly untrue. Who am I making this joke for?

A MONTAGE, a Black boy confused:

-- Higher Education Jefferey sits in the dining hall, the anchor of a rainbow coalition comprised of kids who either look ethnically ambiguous or have foreign-sounding last names.

-- He asserts his Blackness by singing Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” acapella in the breezeway with Sparkle, a biracial girl who smokes blacks and mean mugs all the white students.

-- After reporting on her speech, Higher Education Jefferey poses for a photo with Ann Coulter. She is kind, welcoming, and smiley. He doesn’t know he is shucking and jiving for someone who thinks liberals are “demonic”, “godless”, and treasonous.

INT. MAJORITY-WHITE FLORIDA COLLEGE, AUDITORIUM

Soon-to-be Graduate Jefferey sits among a few hundred other soon-to-be graduates, majestic in his cap and gown and summa cum laude regalia.

Close on the faces of his mother, father, and grandfather.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

I am virtuous and decorated, accomplished and revered, befriended and loved. I deserve to be here. You can’t tell me nothing. Success first, identity second, Blackness third.

jeff-dad2

ACT II

EXT. NEW YORK STREET - DAY

Career Jefferey moves down Wall Street with the peppy gait of someone who belongs.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

By all accounts, I have arrived. Luxury studio in the Financial District? Check. Ascendant husband? Check. True sense of who I am?

INT. FANCY-ASS APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY

Career Jefferey pushes his way into the revolving door just as another man rushes in from the lobby side. The door stops abruptly. A beat. Then, in he strolls.

On his way to the elevator, a voice from behind...

ANGRY WHITE MAN

That was my foot, you fucking asshole!

He turns to see the man from the revolving door - a short, white fellow with a five o’clock shadow and an air of seething entitlement.

Career Jefferey, polished, docile, comfortable in majority- white spaces, is taken aback.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

At this moment, there is nothing explicitly racist about this encounter.

(a beat)

But I sense something deeper in his voice, an insidious undertone that has everything to do with how I look and not what I’ve “done”. I have somehow indicated myself to be less than deserving of his respect. This leaves me two choices. I’ve been raised to be upstanding, to preserve my pristine image at all costs - choice one. Choice two - I can speak up.

Career Jefferey follows after the angry white man.

CAREER JEFFEREY

Hey, who the fuck are you talking to?

The angry white man turns to eye Career Jefferey, incredulous, a look that says, “Don’t sass me, boy.”

An argument ensues. The angry white man reveals more of his true self with each exchange.

ANGRY WHITE MAN

Where’d you go to college - Howard?

I bet you voted for Hillary.

(to the doorman)

He can’t do something like that to me in my own building.

Career Jefferey reads these comments for what they are, innocuous to the untrained ear, but intended to be tiny daggers that chip away at his dignity until he’s reduced to nothing.

He calls the man what he is.

ANGRY WHITE MAN (CONT'D)

I’m not a racist!

Typical.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

When it seems like the situation can’t be deescalated, I steal a move from his playbook. I call the management.

CJ (early 30s), also white, comes rushing over from the elevator. The angry man calms almost instantly, mistaking him for an ally. In a twist, CJ sends him on his way.

CJ

(to Jefferey)

There will always be jerks. You’ve just gotta shake it off.

CJ’s message, like everyone else’s, is to take the angry white man’s racism with a grain of salt. Career Jefferey takes this advice with a grain of salt.

INT. FANCY-ASS APARTMENT - DAY

Jefferey paces back and forth underneath his crystal chandelier, realizing not even the comforts of a luxury residence can insulate him from prejudice.

He feels embarrassed for attempting to play the civil rights activist, daring to come into his own instead of sticking to the background.

Staying silent and speaking up make him feel the same - powerless. He needs a more nuanced role, if he’s allowed.

jeff-dad3

ACT III

EXT. SMALL-TOWN ARKANSAS - DAY

Scenes of quaint, pastoral country life - Walton’s 5&10; the town square with its plush, green courtyard and Confederate statues; pastures with grazing cows; Trump-Pence stickers on car bumpers; people do double-takes as Suburban Jefferey and his husband push their cart through the Wal-Mart aisles.

INT. DECREPIT IHOP - DAY

At a table, Suburban Jefferey sits across from H., a squat, gray-haired white man with stiff limbs. His fingers are curled from arthritis, and he looks like he’s holding a mug of coffee even when his hands are empty.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

I moved to a rural town for my husband’s job. I agreed to edit H.’s manuscript to make money. It’s a complete mess full of rambling, on-the-nose dialogue and incoherent plotting.

(beat)

It’s a large paycheck.

H. (WEEK 1)

What is this so-called white privilege? What is that?

H. (WEEK 2) (CONT'D) 

If you’re a Democrat, I pray for you. You’re in trouble.

H. (WEEK 3) (CONT'D) 

I’ve never seen this much hate towards an American president, ever, and I just don’t understand it.

On Suburban Jefferey’s polite smile. If there were another person of color within a 5-mile radius, they would recognize how much energy it requires to stay neutral and get paid.

H. (WEEK 4) (CONT'D) 

You and your wife should spend a weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks. You’d love it.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

Speak up.

SUBURBAN JEFFEREY 

My husband.

H. 

What’s that?

Suburban Jefferey pauses, rethinking if he wants to go there.

JEFFEREY (V.O.)

Speak up!

SUBURBAN JEFFEREY

My husband.

On H., bewildered, finally silent.

EXT. DECREPIT IHOP - DAY

Two weeks later. H. stops Suburban Jefferey before they walk inside. He tells Suburban Jefferey that he’s decided to keep working with him, even though he’s gay. He smiles, expecting Suburban Jefferey to be pleased.

Close on Suburban Jefferey’s face, again calling on the strength of the gods to remain respectful, palatable, gainfully employed.

Fantasy sequence:

Suburban Jefferey transforms into Activist Jefferey. He stares H. down.

SUBURBAN JEFFEREY

Do you honestly expect me to applaud you for not being a bigot?

H.’s eyes open wide.

The big, triumphant monologue...

SUBURBAN JEFFEREY (CONT'D) 

You shouldn’t need a consultation with God or your wife or whoever to determine if I’m worth investing in. I’m a person, goddamnit, a person. See me, H., for all that I am.

Flash back to reality.

H. and Suburban Jefferey walk into IHOP as usual.

INT. SUBURBAN HOUSE, HOME OFFICE - DAY

Jefferey eyes a check sitting on his desk. Blood money.

Still the do-gooder, the peacekeeper, the yes man, no belief or comment egregious enough for him to turn down a job.

He looks weary, tired from tap dancing.

He promises himself he’ll say no next time.

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