[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.
The scene that stood out to me most was on pages 38-39. This is when Lucinda was telling Monica to stop telling everyone about Fatima's excellence because it's only hurting Fatima. Fatima is very smart and good when it comes to school, however Lucinda believes social skills are more important. I think this is interesting because being smart in school is extremely important for one to excel with their future and being socially enhanced helps one reach their goals and form relationships. Therefore, I think both of these skills are equally important and this is a trivial issue that Lucinda has with Monica.
The post that stood out the most to me was when Monica was responding to Lucinda. Monica states, "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" (41).
We can clearly see the dislike Monica has for Lucinda from the first couple letters that she's sent back, but dragging a little girl's weight into the argument is a little too below the belt for me, considering the fact that most girls do struggle with their body weight. I just found it very shocking that a mom would say that about a child, on top of implying that Lucinda's daughter has mental issues.
The part that stood out to me was on page 41. Monica told Lucinda that she hopes Christina is getting help with her weight before “She ends up , and I say this respectfully, so I hope you won’t be offended in the least, like you. Children do pick these things up from their mothers.” This stood out to me the most because I found it ironic that Monica could say that and fail to see that both of their children act up and interact badly with their peers because they see and learn it from their mothers.
- Kayla P.
The part that stood out to me the most is the first paragraph on page 42, where Monica insinuates Lucinda has had an affair with a married man, that ultimately resulted in the birth of her daughter. This was a shocking comment to me because it displayed just how low Monica was willing to go to upset Lucinda during their exchange of words. Their conversation, which originated about disagreements between their daughters, turned into a series of harmful comments of all topics, which completely takes a way from resolving the issue at hand.
The part that stood out to me was on page 35, when Monica responded to Lucinda's first letter. Specifically, Monica told Lucinda that, "It is true that liars who start young often end up with psychological and social problems of the sort that Christina has demonstrated over the past year. How lucky for you (and for Christina) that she has access to psychotherapy through your practice"(35). Monica's defensiveness in her first letter to Lucinda really stood out to me. Monica's dislike towards Lucinda is very obvious, especially when she mentioned that Christina may have psychological problems and is a "liar". I felt that Monica's defensive response to Lucinda and her negative words about Christina was unnecessary, especially with her knowing that Christina is just a child.
The part that stood out to me was When Monica said that Lucinda should seek help about Christina's "weight" issues before she ended up like her on page 41. This stood out to me the most because it was very shocking that a mother would say this about a child. She also makes a comment saying that children learn things from their mothers, but fails to realize Fatima is picking up on her behaviors as well.
The interaction that stood out most to me was on page 41 when Monica makes a statement about Chrissy's weight. I feel as if both women were being extremely childish, but Monica took it to another level by talking down about a little girl. It makes you look at Monica differently and put two and two together that maybe her daughter develops a lot of her nasty ways from her.
The part that stuck out to me the most was on page 38. It was when they were mentioning Christinia's poor reaction to Fatima's poem won over hers. This caught my attention because I can empathize being so passionate in something, only to fall short of my own expectations.
The section that caught my attention was on page 38.T his was when they were mentioning Christinia's poor reaction to the winning poem Fatima wrote. This caught my attention because it is a situation that happens in everyday life. You can win and some people will never be happy for you.
The part that stood out the most to me was page 41 when Monica began to insult Christinia's weight 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 problems before she ends up...like you" this stood out the most to me because it seems like such a low move to talk about another child's weight in such a way and it really shows how far these women will go.
A part that caught my attention was on page 37 when Monica straight forward told Lucinda " You could spend more time with her so she doesn't lash at others. You should get the help you both need in overcoming your tendencies toward pettiness." Here we could see how both parents want to blame the other parent when really they both are overly competitive. I'm sure it's insulting though to hear a parent tell another parent that both her and her child need some help.
I would say that the letters that stood out to me the most were on pages 36 to 39. Particularly the passive-aggressiveness of both of the moms. In the October 7 letter from Lucinda, she is very backhanded and hypocritical. She says she wants to resolve the issue between their daughters and them, but then at the end of the letter, she says that Monica's daughter's backpack smells like eggs. I feel like they both want to resolve it, feel like the bigger person, and come out on top at the end of the conflict, all at the same time. So they start to contradict themselves.
The part that stood out to me was when Monica said, "I am afraid I can never recommend you for our club. You display a volatile combination of residual ghetto and uppity Negress, and that will be your undoing, if Fatima isn't," (43). This stood out to me because I found it weird that one of the parents of one of the 2 black children at their school, would use racial stereotypes like being ghetto against another black person. This, like others have mentioned, shows just how much disdain they have for each other and the extreme lengths that they're willing to go.
The part that stood out to me was when Monica brought up the rumor that Lucinda's first daughter isn't her husband's daughter (42) even though she has her own rumors regarding true paternity. I think it highlights the fact that both of the mothers try to make comparisons to each of their respective daughters in order to make themselves feel like they are the better parent when, in reality, they're the same.
The part that stood out to me was when Monica stated, "I really hope that in addition to help for her lies and early stages of psychosis,you would get Christinia 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 stood out because you can see that now the issue is getting much larger, the two women are beginning to cast their anger at each other through their children when at a PWI with the only two black children in the fourth grade they should be trying to overcome this argument instead of trying to keep hitting each other where it hurts.
The instance that stood out to me the most was on page 42 when Lucinda was telling Monica that she was done writing letters to her because she wasn’t going to make any progress with her. Lucinda practically tells Monica that she needs to see a professional for help. She doesn’t want to ever recommend Monica for the club because of how Monica is and acts. This scene caught my attention because Lucinda is being so straight forward without any hesitation and most people are not like that. Lucinda is almost telling Monica that she is better than her and that is a big instance of the competitiveness between them.
In all honesty seeing too mothers compete over their daughter’s achievements was no surprise. The aggressive nature and name calling was a little bit more to be desired. The biggest shock to me was that they let this rivalry affect their young children. On page 49 the principal reaches out regarding a fist fight the young girls had. It is one thing to discuss your grievances to another mother in private but to spew such hatred to their children which resulted in violence was disgraceful to say the least. One side point that I found most intriguing was the racially motivated name calling by the children. One would assume that they would teach their kids the intent behind these words but the use of “African booty scratcher”(page 44) or “dark skinned self”(page 45).
The instance that stood out to me the most was the fact that the two women consistently mentioned their different titles/accomplishments underneath their names on the headings/endings of their letters. For example on page 36, Dr.Lucinda included the fact that she was the author of "Train Up A Child" after giving Dr.Monica advice about how to deal with her daughter Fatima's supposed malicious behavior.
This entire story had me rolling in laughter. The pettiness, audacity, and absolutely unnecessary backhanded comments took me aback. On page 40 in Lucinda’s letter, she said, “…I see where Fatima’s delusions of grandeur come from. You are, unfortunately, enabling your childs arrogance and stifling her growth even at this young age.” She not only attacked Fatima but also Monica's parenting skills. Monica and Lucinda obviously have much in common despite their different backgrounds. They are both very successful and live in a nice, predominately white area with great schools. However, both are literally roasting each other’s children based off of frivolous schoolgirl issues! They should be sticking together. The women need to get their children to feel a sense of community.
The part that stood out the most to me is on page 41 when Monica tells Lucinda that Christinia's weight problem comes from her, the mother. This had caught my attention because through this whole chapter, Lucinda and Monica has been arguing back and forth about their children. Lucinda should have some restraint as she is a parent and an adult, and should not be talking about anybody's weight, especially a kid.
Personally, the part that stood out the most to me was when Monica said, "You should get the help you both need in overcoming your tendencies towards pettiness." (page 37) When Monica says this to Lucinda it is very one-sided and ironic, she is blaming Lucinda and her daughter for all of the issues and said "pettiness" when she is being just as petty in her responses, adding insults that do not need to be there. They are both being disrespectful to each other and are both playing the victim.
The part that stood out the most for me would by on page 41 where Monica brings out a comment on Chrissy about her weight. I personally feel its okay for people to disagree but only to some degree. There is no need for whatsoever reason to bring weight issues on a child. This just paints a dirty picture on Monica and a very different view.
The part that stood out to me was the first instance or pair of responses between the 2 ladies. The first impression to the reader is the most important and when the letters are getting sent between page 33 and 36. With Monica on page 35 specifically saying that Christina, who had access to Dr. Lucinda's psychotherapy, had psychological and social problems. This sets the tone for what the words of each letter are going to be. The tone in this case would be more of a petty/sucker-punch kind of tone. Which prepares the reader for even more pettiness as they read through the story.
The part that stood out to me was when Lucinda called Monica an uppity Negress. I saw this as the instance where the issue where the children's wellbeing seemed to be an afterthought. At first, I thought this was a slightly humorous story involving passive aggressive helicopter moms, but this exchange seemed to be a bit more malicious. It kind of took out all of the humor and enjoyment of the situation, and showcased the aggression and pettiness that encompassed both of these women.
One thing that stood out most to me was the irony in their insults. An example of this is the continued mention of accolades each woman possess but in some instances their obvious shortcomings in continuing to maintain the qualifications for said accolades. Here I refer to page 36 where Dr. Lucinda details that she authored "Train Up A Child" yet her very own daughter, as well as Monica's daughter, struggles behaviorally. One would assume the author on a children's behavior book would implement the behavior changing techniques their book outlines.
The part that stood out to me was on page 42 when Monica stated "Wasn't Dr. Patel married when he joined your committee and divorced by the end of it?". At this point, I feel as if the two women have deeper issues with each other and are using the children's "behaviors" as an excuse to attack each other. Things have gotten personal to where they started talking about things that didn't even involve the children. I believe that they are really trying to one-up each other, especially since they bragged about themselves in some of the letters.
What really stood out to me was at the beginning of their exchanges when Monic replies to Lucinda's initial letter on page 34 and says, "I apologize for my late reply, but I only found your letter at the bottom of Fatima's backpack when I did my weekly cleaning."
While Lucinda's letter was petty on the low, this response by Monica was even more so, and it really told me right away that this is what all of their exchanges would be like from here on. I also noted that they are both intelligent and successful women with extensive education, so why would they resort to petty arguments like this at the expense of their children? It became clear to me after Monica pointed out that Christina has "naps in her head" that these women felt a bit threatened by each other considering they are among the few black families at the predominantly white school, and they resorted to low blows to bring the other down and feel superior.
On page 35, when Monica writes "And unlike Christinia, she has no history of running off with other girls' shoes while their feet dangle from the monkey bars" (Thompson-Spires). This scene stood out to me because that is something that children do pretty often as a joke, so I found it odd that Monica would somehow relate to such violent rumors about a child. I find it very disturbing how Monica and Lucinda had brought their own children into their rivalry, because no one should be disrespecting children like that.
Unhealthy competition is very dangerous for reasons such as these, and as a Black woman myself, I find having some sort of sisterhood with other Black women is one of the main ways we can uplift each other, so it is sad to see how these two women have resulted to these petty jabs as a means to uplift their daughters when it would be better to just uplift both girls (and themselves).
the part that stood out the most to me was on page 41 where Monica speaks about Chrissy's weight,I feel like this comment was extremely uncalled for and you have to go to a new type of low in order to say something like that about a child.
What stood out to me the most was how Lucinda and Monica's relationship was depicted. The animosity and distaste conveyed throughout there interaction was very blatant. The animosity even translated to how Monica spoke of Christina, denouncing her as socially and psychologically unwell and in need of psychological treatment. It was just mind boggling how rude and derisive two grown women could be.
The part that stood out the most to me was on page 41 when Monica made a comment about Christina's weight. I have dealt with adults talking down about my weight when I was younger, so I know that her saying that was not only a reflection of how she truly views herself, but also a display of just how far she will take her nastiness--far enough to bring down a child. It makes me believe that that is most likely where her daughter is learning her unkind behaviors from, and also that her daughter could most likely experience that body shaming (from her own mother) as well.
Something that stood out to me was when Monica basically told Lucinda that she still had a slave mentality on page 46. She already called her out on her coon like behavior and not wanting the girls to fight because they are the only black children in the class, but Lucinda completely disregarded her. Lucinda basically prided herself on not having an issue race wise even bringing up her own childhood, which warranted Monica to call out her slave like mentality.
The two interactions that stood out the most to me would be one, on page 41, where Monica mentions Christinia's weight and says she will end up like her mother. This stuck out to me because up until this point thigns were pretty mellow and they. were going back and. forth about the girls then affairs were brought up as well as the weight. Also, on page 46, Lucinda's makeshift poem also stuck out to me because it was insanely childish right along with her "anonymous" letter from page 47. This entry was very well written and left me wanting more detail as to how the animosity was handled.
The instance of their competition which stood out to me the most was at the bottom of page 41, with Monica’s response of “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.”. I think that this instance stood out to me the most because even though they were attacking each other and their children throughout these letters, this one stood out because she was taking about a child’s weight. I just thought that was one thing that should definitely be off limits because kids can’t really control their weight and they already have to deal with getting bullied about it at school, so why did she go for the weight? But that is what stood out to me.
-Tiffany Ellison 2/19/21
The part of the book stuck out to me most was page 38. In this part of the book was when they were mentioning Christinia's poor reaction to how Fatima's poem won over hers. This caught my attention because I can understand her being upset about something she felt deserved more recognition.
Ashanti Young 2/20/21
The exchange between Monica and Lucinda that was the most sobering to me was there exchanged throughout 39-41. They said a lot of unsavory things that were exchanged in a manner that almost made it seem like a normal exchange. Seeing that they are both mothers it just doesn’t seem right having them go toe to toe on each other’s kids like that. The most hurtful thing was when they two mother’s talked about the girls’s weight and then there was an insinuation of one of the kids being born out of wedlock. Big topics in the African American community that are just taboo.
Kaelyn Cupil 2/20/21
The part that stood out to me the most was on page 41 where Monica said " I really hope ....you will get Christinia 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. Children do pick these things up from their mother." I found this shocking that she would pick on a child for their weight because these things can produce life long insecurities. I think bringing up a children's insecurity in such a unsensitive way is across the line and never acceptable.
Monica and Lucinda had several shocking moments during their banter. The fact that they are two mothers talking about each other's daughters had me completely speechless because that's not what friends and/or mothers do. The part that stood out the most to me during their argument on page 42 when Monica brought up that Lucinda's daughter was the result of an affair with someone who was married. It shocked me that she said that because that's something very hurtful and disrespectful to say.
The part that stood out the most to me was on pages 42-43. It was funny to me how Lucinda would include in her letter that she will no longer be writing back but then says more insults and judgements about Monica. This just seems like childish behavior at this point as she declares it's her last letter and then incites the argument even more. It's as if she enjoys the back and forth and wants to have the last word even though she knows Monica will more than likely respond back in defense.
Something that stood out for me almost immediately was the sign-offs. I thought it was really strange how much emphasis the mothers kept putting on their doctorates or emphasizing the books they published. It went from backhanding-ly showing off on page 33-37 to "let's keep it real" from Monica on-page 44. Another thing I noticed was the mention of how Lucinda did her hair to fit in with white people, so it's no wonder her own daughter's hair isn't growing how it should. "Chrissy is baldheaded because you don't know how to take care of your own hair, let alone hers"(46). This one hit especially hard because even now, many black mothers will resort to perming/relaxing their daughter's hair with chemicals or placing them in too tight, high scalp tension styles because it makes out hair "less nappy" or "presentable". From a young age, many black women are taught to hate our natural curls and because we lack the proper education on our hair, it leads to being called baldheaded, nappy. Our hair is so beautiful, short or long, curly or straight.
There were definitely multiple things in this chapter that really stood out to me because I understand people can be hard-headed and competitive but on page 39 when you are criticizing a young kid for her poem really made me angry. I understand that Lucinda has degrees but it is a kids poem and they are in school so you can not try and pick a fight because her apparent award-winning poem had mistakes and reminder she is also just a kid so she does not know everything about the proper grammar and literature it comes with being expert on writing at a young age. By reading just the first two letters I already knew that problems were going to arise and pitting their children just to argue about every little thing seems very immature for two grown women. I understand parents want to be proud of their children but making everything a competition against other kid's parents is spiteful and arrogant. I honestly think the mothers are acting like kids and that is why their children act the way they do.
There were multiple instances of competition that stood out to me. One of them was the subtle way they closed the letters. On page 36, after Dr. Johnston received a response, she added to her signature "Author of Train up a Child" (37) as if to prove she knows how to raise children. This was not there before. Then, in response, Dr. Willis in her signature says "Author of Every Voice Counts: Helping Children of Color Succeed at Predominantly White Schools"(38). I found it interesting how they both put this in their signature, as if to provide credibility for their argument and trying to show how they are better than the other.
On page 38, Lucinda drops the formalities in the beginning of her letter "Excuse the informal note" as if to say the charade was over. From this point on they continue to throw insults at one another- but what stood out to me was that Monica was the one to officially cross the passive comments on with a more direct threat, in which I realized that they were more than just in competition with one another. But it was Monica in the end being friendly to Lucinda as if they were friends. This was confusing but delightful because it lets the readers come to the conclusion they were able to make amends with one another!
I found the tension between Monica and Lucinda very troublesome. To see these women- these mothers who will have an influence on each other's children as well as their own- throwing jabs and tasteless words towards the children is quite appalling, on page 41. To talk about a child's weight is perpetuating the overwhelming pressure young women have today growing up.
I was very shocked at how these two mother's disdain for each there went to the lengths of judging little girls. The negative feelings they have for each other were made clear within the letters early on. To think that on page 41, Monica makes hurtful jabs at Christina's weight is very disheartening. Playing into the social pressure for young girls to grow up and have to watch their weight.
This chapter took me by surprise completely as it showed two kinds of black mothers and their response to raising daughters. The common competetive mentality that's used to approach threatening situations is often the demise. However the instance of the girl's fighting and nearly being expelled is what stood out to me. The mothers, who have nothing left to prove and are both educated, lost sight of what was actually important which negatively affected their children on page 49. The realization that the root of the problem is their pettiness and false sense of superiority over each other was very wholesome in the end.
This entire portion of the book shocked me with how insulting the women's comments were. Throughout the mothers' entire argument through these letters they spoke poorly and put down each other's children. To name a few instances, Lucinda criticizes and downplays Fatima's accomplishments saying, "Lots of people skip grades, and skipping kindergarten isn't something to brag about... I'm pretty sure hardly anyone would call 'Butterfly Pie' a work of poetic genius," (39). On page 41, Monica comments on Christinia's weight and reports what she "heard" about Christinia stealing "other kids' lunch scraps from the cafeteria and bullied that poor kid with the unfortunate ears into giving her all of his pepperoni for the next month." Lastly, Lucinda implied Fatima would be Monica's "undoing" when she stated, "You display a volatile combination of residual ghetto and uppity Negress, and that will be your undoing, if Fatima isn't," (43). Bringing in such disrespectful comments about one another's children is absolutely unnecessary.
Before ending this, one other part of the argumentative letters that stuck out to me was when Monica had the audacity to bring up Lucinda's personal relations with Mr. Johnston and Dr. Patel on page 42. This was the definition of a petty argument.
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