Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Haley Reading (Group 1) Nafissa Thompson-Spires's "Belles Lettres"


[Haley Reading groups Spring 2021]

By Lakenzie Walls and Howard Rambsy II

Nafissa Thompson-Spires's “Belles Lettres,” from her collection of stories Heads of the Colored People (2018) focuses on a pair of Black mothers of two girls at a predominantly white private school. The mothers exchange distasteful letters about each other’s daughters. The story, presented in the form of letters from the mothers, reveals the lengths they will go to uplift their own black daughter, even if it means belittling a rival’s child.

In one example of the subtle insults that they toss at each other, one mother writers, “Perhaps the kids at Fatima’s old school were bad influences on her? Why did she change schools after first grade anyway? That’s generally a bad sign” (39). In her response, the other mother writes that “Not everyone is suited for literary work. I’m sure you know that from your own writing struggles” (40). Comments like those persist throughout the story.

This story shows many instances of competitiveness between two apparently well-to-do Black women parents. Which instance of their competition stood out to you most? Briefly explain why that moment caught your attention. Please provide the page number(s) for the scene or quotation you provide.

38 comments:

Unknown said...

The part that caught my attention the most was in Monica’s 4th letter she said, “I really hope that in addition to help for her lies and early signs of psychosis, you will get Christina some help for her weight problem before she ends up- and I say this respectfully, so I hope you won’t be offended in the least- like you.” This quote stood out to me because up until that point the letters were mainly about the actions/academic achievement of the daughters and how the other mother needs to parent better. It also made me laugh out loud when I read it the first time. After that letter the responses get more heated and personal.

Alexys Williams

Anonymous said...

"It is true that liars who start young often end up with psychological and social problems of the sort that Christiana demonstrated over the past year. How lucky for you (and Christiania) that she has access to psychotherapy through your practice". This quote early on in the book stood out to me because I felt like Monica was using reverse psychology on Lucinda from Lucinda's previous statement about Monica's daughter being a liar. I also liked how Monica included that last sentence about it being a good thing that Lucinda's practice was available and could be of help.


Iyauna Brown

Jaydyn Zykan said...

Throughout the exchange of the letters between Monica and Lucinda what caught my attention was Monica's response to Lucinda's first letter. In this letter, Monica states "It is true that liars who start young often end up with psychological and social problems...How lucky for you (and Christinia) that she has access to psychotherapy through your practice" (35). When I first read this, I had to take a second to laugh at the diss because I could not believe what I had read; however, I think that it was a low blow to comment on her daughter's peer's psychological and mental health while also dissing the mother.
Jaydyn Zykan

Alayna M. said...

Towards the end of their exchanges, Lucinda makes a threat of contacting the police. My first thought was how white woman Karen this was of her, considering she was being just as malicious as Monica AND Lucinda was the one who started the whole interaction! My second thought was how getting the police involved was definitely an over-exaggeration. This disagreement was obviously just two mothers wanting to be better than the other, they were doing exactly what Monica said she hoped wouldn't happen with Fatima and Christina. Two black women in a predominantly white element going against each other instead of standing together through it all.

- Alayna M

Kenisha Townsend said...

What stood out to me the most was one of Monica’s letters (45,46). It highlighted colorism in the black community. Lucinda’s daughter, Chrissy, was accused of insulting Fatima and using phrases such as her “dark-skinded self”. Likewise, Fatima called Chrissy things such as an “African booty-scratcher”. What difference does it make when both of them are Black. I don’t understand why two people of color make insults toward one another because one is darker than the other. I recall people throwing around these insulting words when growing up. I’ll be glad when kids unlearn these behaviors and understand Black is beautiful. Unfortunately, this has deep historical roots in how society has made young black girls believe they aren’t beautiful.

-Kenisha Townsend

Anonymous said...

Honestly the whole interactions between the two women stands out to me. Commenting on children gathering weight, insinuating that one of them slept around and thus doesn't know the real father of their daughter. In my opinion this goes beyond competition It was all a pointless battle of egos that in the end negatively impacted their daughters and caused a fist fight to break out between them. Again pointless and dumb.

Chris Wooten

Keaira C. said...

There have been many representations of women’s competitiveness, defensiveness, and personalities in general. Both of the women’s personalities spill through and reveal within their exchanges in the letters’ of them making comments on each other’s daughters, poking fun, and continuing to challenge each other. “It’s funny to me that you would try to reactivate those rumors about my strictly professional working relationship with Dr. Patel, especially since we’ve all heard things about Fatima’s biological father. (pg. 42)”. This quote from the text stood out to me because there’s an irony to the mothers of Christinia and Fatima. Not only were they starting to act childish, gossip, and consider rumors of each other, but these attitudes of being offensive and hostile towards each other also transferred to them speaking about each other’s daughters. This aggression and the same approach is the reason behind the initial issue and cause of the fight between their daughters that they’re trying to get resolved.

Thomas Siganga said...

A quote that really stuck out to me was, "it doesn't matter how brilliant the child is. No one will ask how her letter grades are later in life, but they will want to know how socialized she was." (38) This quote holds a lot of truth for many fields people pursue, as making connections are more important. While I do not fully agree with saying that brilliance does not matter, I would say these connections would matter more as they open up to internships and other job offers.

Thomas Siganga

Danielle Hawthorne said...

This story shows many instances of competitiveness between two apparently well-to-do Black women parents. The instance of their competition that stood out to me the most was when Monica Willis on page 37 stated “You could spend more time with her so she doesn’t lash out on others” .This moment caught my attention because not only is Monica insulting Lucinda’s parenting but she is also insulting her daughter. It’s amazing to name how they can insult each other in such a terrible way. As a minority, strong black women in the community they should stick together instead of constantly being in competition.



Danielle Hawthorne

Tracy Long said...

The whole read was interesting, it went from 2 mothers talking about their kids to it becoming a shady and petty battle. The part that really stuck out to me is on page 44 when she says “ And yes , there is still a bit of the ghetto still left in me ....” it shows the letters getting more and more heated and unprofessional. Also on page 45-46 it deals with something that’s major in the African American community which is colorism .

Isaiah Jackson said...

The moment that stood out the most for me was when Monica and Lucinda stopped pretending their issue was with the other's kid. A good example of this was when Monica implied Lucinda was involved in an affair (where she was the homewrecker) with Dr. Patel, one of her academic partners (page 41). In response, Lucinda implied that Fatima was born from a different father than the rest of Monica's children. At this point, it becomes obvious that Monica and Lucinda are the toxic ones, and their kids only dislike each other because Monica and Lucinda dislike each other. This really highlights how Monica and Lucinda have the same insecurity; they have both worked very hard to be successful, especially as black people in a predominantly white community, and they feel like their success is threatened by another black person achieving the same success or possibly more. An example of this insecurity is how Lucinda felt the need to note how she was happy as the only black person attending Westwood as a child (page 39), or both Monica and Lucinda implying the other is jealous. In response to this insecurity, they tear down each other, their children, and their own values. I feel like this would have gone on if their children did not get in a fight, with the potential expulsion of both children giving both mothers a wake-up call that they should not be enemies.

-Isaiah Jackson

Alexis S. said...

After reading this excerpt from the book, I was in shock the whole time while reading due to the bitter and nasty things the two mother's said to each other. The one statement that stood out to me the most was on page 42 when Monica stated, "Does Mr. Johnson know those may not be his children, or is he in on the ruse with Dr. Patel?" and then Lucinda's reply, "... especially since we've all heard things about Fatima's biological father". Those two statements were very harsh and stooped down to a very low level. To question infidelity in a marriage and the relation to their children's father I found to be very disrespectful. As a black woman in today's society we already go through many hardships and I believe that we need to stick together and uplift each other instead of tearing each other down like these two mother's presented in the numerous letters they sent each other back and forth.

- Alexis S.

Linda H. said...

The letters took place over the course of a month. The letters were blatantly disrespectful and I can't imagine going on like that for so long. What stuck out to me that when their daughters got into a fight they were so quick to repair their relationship most likely for the sake of their daughters not being expelled. When Monica tells Lucinda "Thank you for inviting Fatima to Chrissy's party. She will be happy to attend.(Page 50)" I can't help but think a week isn't long enough for their relationship to be truly patched up.

Linda H.

Adejoke Adanri said...

The whole interaction was very surprising to me, but the things that stood out to me most were the low blows that would have felt racially charged if they weren't from two black women. At one point on page 45 Lucinda says "Chrissy could injure herself on a dirty safety pin, knowing you people, and end up with Hepatitis A, B, or C..." and on page 46 Monica calls Chrissy baldheaded. All of the fighting was so petty, but insults on the children's physical appearance, their families, and social class took it too far, especially with Christinia and Fatima being the only black girls at their school.

Devin Ellis-Martin said...

The instance that stood out to me the most, was on page 35, at the end of Monica Willis' letter. She states, "...even though Christina has made it much more difficult for her to find friends at Westwood, Fatima will acclimate soon. She's going to a sleepover at Emily's this weekend. Is Christina going? If so, I hope you will encourage her to play nice." (35). I was really taken back reading that, as it was the first time I read, I bad "dig", if you will. - Devin Ellis-Martin

Phoenix Johnson said...

When Lucinda said that Fatima has a more "African look" and when she said Monica displayed uppity Negress and being ghetto on page 43 stood out to me. The reasoning is because they are showing examples of colorism. Monica of darker skin completion is being called African and ghetto, while Monica is telling Lucinda, a lighter skin complexion, that she pases the "paper-bag" test. This test is used to describe that people with paper bag skin color or lighter got more privileges then draker skin complexion. This colorism still happens today although the setting was in 1991.

Samantha A. said...

This reading shocked me overall as theses mothers are bother insulting these fourth grade children over a rumor, which could have been dealt with through the daughters. The instance that stood out the most to me was when Monica criticized Christinia's size and said, "I really hope that in addition to help for her lies and early signs of psychosis, you will get CHristinia some help for her weight problem" (41). I was also shocked that Monica called out the naps in Christinia's hair and downgraded that she had good hair. I was bewildered that these women are judging these 9 or 10-year-olds over a rumor, which they could have gathered one day to settle the rumor.

Samantha A.

Teighlor Traywick said...

Blog Post:
" The instance of their competition that stood out to me was the intelligence and abilities of both girls were questioned by the mothers. For example, Lucinda mocked the intelligence of Fatima when she said "I doubt that the standards at her old school were as rigorous as those as Westwood. What exactly was advanced at, naptime?" (p. 80 e-book). This moment caught my attention, because black people are constantly told that they are not capable, smart, or bright. When two black mothers criticized the other's daughter's obvious outstanding abilities, it became apparent that when black people are in spaces that predominately contain non-black people, they view the other black person as competition. To black people, it feels as though there is only "space" for one black person in these situations because history has shown that room will not be made for an abundance of black people, just enough to appear integrated or inclusive. Instead of feeling united, these mothers felt contention and animosity because their daughters could not "shine" as the only black intelligent girl in the grade level"

Teighlor Traywick

Noah Jones said...

The part that said "I would ask you to consider this, however: If Fatima is the problem, why is she growing in popularity while Christina is only growing in girth and the number of casualties associated with her name" on page 37 really stands out to me. This is because it highlights just how far the mothers are willing to go when insulting each other through the kids. I think it also highlights w overly involved the mothers are in their kids' lives.

- Noah Jones

Brooke Harris said...

The part that got most of my attention and I had a very sour feeling about was the letter the principal wrote on page 49. Previously there were moments such as the women bickering about rumors regarding very serious topics such as torture and death. I felt that at that moment that the quarrels should have stopped in order to talk to their children about how these topics shouldn't be taken out of context and that they were serious, but the letter from the principal definitely was the thing that did it for me. I could only assume that after writing each other that often a bad word about each other made it to their daughters and instead of worrying about their children and setting an example, it caused them to actually fight instead of stick together in an environment where they won't see people like them often. It was just very shocking and sad to me to see the competitiveness had eat them up that bad for it to spiral out of control like that.
-Brooke Harris

Kelsey McNeil said...

Throughout this entire reading everything that these parents were saying were very shocking to me because of how mean each of them got and how long these letters were going on for. The part that really stood out to me was "I really hope that in addition to help for her lies and early signs of psychosis, you will get Christina some help for her weight before she ends up - and I say this respectfully, so I hope you won't be offended in the least - like you" (p. 41). This part stood out so much to me because I just could not imagine saying something like that about someone or their child at all. Both of these parents were extremely disrespectful and the insults and rudeness just increased as the letters progressed.

Kelsey McNeil

Ayo J said...

A quote that really stood out to me was "Christinia may not have notable social anxieties...I really hope that in addition to help for her lies and early signs of psychosis, you will get Christinia some help for her weight problem before she ends up...like you" (Thompson 41). I see this quote a mean statement whereby it makes people to feel insecure about themselves. It was wrong for the 2 parent to trade these demeaning statements at each other. As it shows their lack of parental responsibility in the life of children who are still growing up.

Alliyah M. said...

The instance of competition that stood out the most was on page 38-39 where Lucinda was comparing Chrissy's and Fatima's social skills. Lucinda pointed out a quote from Mrs. Watson about how getting good grades doesn't matter later in life compared to having good social skills. I thought this quote was interesting because it showed how different Lucinda's and Monica's views are on what makes someone successful later in life and showed that their arguments were really about whose child will be the most successful later in life . Monica seemed to focus on education more as seen through her constantly insulting Chrissy and Lucinda's reading skills as well as talking about Fatima's academic accomplishments where Lucinda focused on social skills.

Kalonji said...

The instance of competitiveness that stuck out to me the most was when Monica writes, "Christinia may not have notable social anxieties, but that is because she dominates the other children. There has to be some insecurity behind that, perhaps about her size"(41). Reading this was an eyebrow-raiser for sure. At this point, the pettiness rose to such a high point where an educated grown woman resorted to a direct verbal assault on the mental state of a child which was a reach in itself. The letters between the two got more and more informal/ unprofessional and their pride got in the way of solving the issue at hand. At that point, they became the kids and totally lost sight of what was actually going on.

Justin Jubert said...

The part that stood out to me was on page 43 when Lucinda stated, "You display a volatile combination of residual ghetto and uppity Negress, and that will be your undoing." This quote shows how pervasive white supremacy is in our society and how it can cause anti-black behavior, even among African Americans. As an African American who grew up in a predominately black area, I've witnessed exchanges like this regularly. Still, it only creates division in the community, which keeps the systems that oppress us operating. -JJ

Ehriana . C said...

The part that stood out to me the most was on page 40-41 when Lucinda and Monica was were discussing their daughters reading levels. I thought it was crazy that they really thought one reading group was higher than the other when really the only thing distinguishing them are title and the people in the groups. This was basically the “who’s daughter is the smartest” competition when really the girls are probably around the same exact reading level since they’re in the same grade.
-Ehriana C

Ehriana . C said...

The part that stood out to me the most was on page 40-41 when Lucinda and Monica was were discussing their daughters reading levels. I thought it was crazy that they really thought one reading group was higher than the other when really the only thing distinguishing them are title and the people in the groups. This was basically the “who’s daughter is the smartest” competition when really the girls are probably around the same exact reading level since they’re in the same grade.

-Ehriana C

Philip Bowen said...

The part that stood out to me the most was on page 42 Lucinda brought up the fact the Fatima might have a different father then other her other two kids. The comment she made was 'two kids with Mr.Willis's features, one kid (Fatima)with a more "African Look"(pg,42).I found this quote rude and disrespectful to first question the relationship of child to their parent just cause they have a darker skin complexation. A lot of black women face colorism in today society and to see it here was shocking.

Courteona combs said...

What stood out to me would be the competitiveness between the two mothers from the beginning. I say this because why is this an on going thing? Why belittle eachother, talk nonsense when you guys could lift each other up lead way for those two young daughters of there's, show them how to be young ladies and strive for greatness. Instead what they see is sometimes what they will grown to be.


-Courteona Combs

Samontriona P said...

When reading this book, the part that stood our to me the most was the mentioning of colorism on page 45. This stood out to me because I remember being in school and black girls got talked about by other black girls due to them being a darker shade. At my school it was not only the women contributing to this but the men as well. I had a friend who was once told, you are cute, if yo were light skinned I would date you. I have also heard the words " She's pretty for a dark-skinned girl" multiple times throughout my childhood. I'm not sure if these were supposed to be compliment but they are not. This is something that is very real and needs to be stopped.

Unknown said...

The part that stood out to me most is how one of the mothers was insulting the other moms daughter. It’s one thing to not like the parent but to talk about her daughter isn’t right. On page 46 she said “and your Chrissy is bald headed because you don’t know how to do your own hair, let alone hers” she could’ve left it at talking about the mom but putting the daughter in it was wrong and definitely stood out to me right away, i was pretty shocked in a sense.

Tymera Washington 2/12/21

Anonymous said...

The thing that really stuck out to me was the letter on pages 42 and 43 that Dr. Johnson sent in which she says, “Let’s see: three kids, two kids with Mr. Willis’s features, on kid(Fatima) with more ‘African look.’ Mathematically speaking it seems you picked up more on your travels to Africa than those seventies-style caftans you insist on wearing.” These women are engaged in a very disrespectful conversation and I think that it is very wrong to question the legitimacy of ones child just based on skin tone alone.

-Kenyon Davis 2/16/21

James Beverly III said...

This book is pretty heavy, and I actually enjoy it! The one part that stood out to me the most were the letters that were exchanged (beginning on page 45). It’s interesting to see how these two mothers bicker and try to tear down one another. They should really be focusing on lifting each other up - they were just saying so many vile things towards one another and it honestly got them nowhere.

-James Beverly III

gabby said...

There were a lot of quotes that stuck out to me throughout this reading. One quote that was very memorable read, "It is true that liars who start young often end up with psychological and social problems of the sort that Christiana demonstrated over the past year. How lucky for you (and Christiania) that she has access to psychotherapy through your practice". The two mothers were bickering and trying to insult one another by using there words. This especially stuck out to me because this diss was directed towards the other mothers daughter which I feel like is a low blow! But, it was a good read overall!

Jayla Pierce said...

Honestly all the letter's stood out to me it was a constant back and forth that stemmed from addressing an issue between their daughters. At the beginning there was a sort of formality to it, even though they were throwing petty shots, they were discussing actual issues that got lost in the one upping of the other. When Monica ended on of her letters, "and yes, there is bit of ghetto still left in me, enough to tell you who can finish the fight if it gets to that point. We're never too far from Oakland or the Southside," that I could tell all formalities (the little that was there) were gone (44). From then on race was explicitly brought into the equation after her response to Lucinda's "you display a violate combination of residual ghetto and uppity Negress, and that will be you undoing, if Fatima isn't" (43). It is disappointing to not only see black women put against each other but to throw race into like black women already do not face colorism and racism from outside their race.

EvanCeleste said...

"You display a volatile combination of residual ghetto and uppity Negress, and that will be your undoing, if Fatima isn't" (43). My jaw literally dropped when I read that quote for the first time. The way these women speak to each other is abhorrent and sad. It is obvious that each of their insecurities forces them to attack the other to overcompensate for their own lacking self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part about the competition was on pages 37-38 when Fatima’s mother Monica was trying to encourage them to take a different approach to the situation. She didn’t want them to put an even bigger target on their backs, “I’m not of the mind that the only two black children in the class should be enemies, nor do I like the attention it draws to them (or their parents) when they’re already in a difficult position” (pg 37). She wants them to be more civil and not try to attack or belittle each other. It’s nice to see that people still want to work towards getting along instead of attacking one another. It was very immature for Lucinda to attach Fatima, but it was also immature for Monica to respond with the same behavior. However, seeing that they got past it was really nice.

Alexis H. 3/1/21

Donovan Washington said...

The part that stood out to me the most was on page 36 when Dr. Lucinda writes this, "There is probably some petty jealousy going on, but I think we can resolve this." At this moment during the reading I knew it was only going down hill from here. I could literally feel the tension building from this point onwards while reading each letter. I'm sure many of us were taught the idea of "being the bigger person" when dealing with conflict when in reality, I believe the the saying, "treat others how they treat you" is much more fitting.