Summary of Chapter Thirteen: A Place Up Ahead
Cedric and Zayd are friends again, and Zayd looks at Cedric’s poem. Cedric knows that the poem is really about his own journey as much as about the kids at Slater. Zayd likes the line, “let the colors run.” There has been a very great change in the relationship, for now Cedric feels that he is Zayd’s equal, not just a poor ghetto kid. He knows he doesn’t need acceptance from white kids. He is just one of the many at Brown pursuing his own goals. They are all letting the colors run.
With mid-terms comes heavy stress for everyone. In his psychology class, Cedric is surprised by getting a 30% on one of the tests. He has to consider his options carefully. He can’t drop this class because he will probably have to drop discrete math. Spanish is easy and so is calculus with a 94 and 98 on tests. Cedric knows he jumped from taking it too easy to biting off too much. Five courses were too much for this semester. He decides to take psychology for pass/fail and drop discrete math. It will mean he will have to work hard on a test and paper to pass psychology.
Cedric now focuses between study sessions on his social life. He goes for his first date with Chiniqua and tries on different roles as a “fine and studly black man” (p. 316). Chiniqua is not impressed, and he gives it up as only working in the movies. When he lets go and is himself, they have a good time. At the same time, things are easier with Rob, and they share their music. Rob actually likes some of Cedric’s CDs. Cedric notices that actions and words “seem to carry less weight, less personal charge” (p. 321). In the spring, Cedric tries some parties, including one at Harambee House with Chiniqua where he enjoys watching the black kids dance. He also goes to the Underground, Brown’s student-run club, but turns around at the last minute and leaves, feeling Bishop Long breathing down his neck. Rob tells him, “You can’t go through life not trying anything” (p. 314). Later, he decides to go back to the Underground when Molly, a white student, asks him to go. He drinks ginger ale and seeing that nothing happens, he relaxes.
Cedric begins to understand he doesn’t have to choose between hanging out with black kids or white kids. He can do both. He can be secure as a black man and as a person in the world. He feels freer to move around, going to the black section of Providence to the Salvation Army store for a beige wool overcoat. He looks in a mirror and thinks that he looks like his father. He remembers a line from W. E. B. DuBois, the black philosopher who said that a black man always has a “double-consciousness,” of his own point of view and seeing himself as other people view him. But he thinks, perhaps this does not mean one cannot have a true sense of self.
Cedric meets his former chemistry teacher, Clarence Taylor, passing through Providence on his way to the Boston Marathon. Clarence gives Cedric a Bible study magazine and a long Biblical quotation about Christ. Cedric says he liked his misquotation about a hope in the unseen better. He has always “imagined the unseen as a place” (p. 330) that he couldn’t see but was up ahead where he would be welcomed “just for who I am” (p. 330). He tells Clarence he has learned that he has to accept himself first before he can expect others to accept him. Clarence is moved by his wisdom and says that the unseen place is “in your heart” (p. 330).
Commentary on Chapter Thirteen: A Place Up Ahead
Cedric gains autonomy as he negotiates his classes and social life. He has been in a race to get to the place up ahead for so long that he hasn’t known who he was, lost in DuBois’s “double-consciousness” of seeing himself through some other lens as a hopeless ghetto kid. Finally, he lets go, tries new things, and begins to feel more comfortable with himself. He knows now it is not about the others; it’s about how he sees himself. Interactions with other Brown students help him to drop the false poses. Chiniqua for instance lets him know to forget the militant black guy routine and the pimp roll as he walks. Rob tells him he can’t keep hiding from everything. He goes to parties and nightclubs and finds he is still intact. He had held out from going to the black dorm, Harambee House, afraid of being pulled into the “undertow” (p. 332) of just sticking with blacks. He does not want “a separatist compromise” (p. 332). Cedric wants to let the colors run, and he’s learning how. The main point is that “being here doesn’t alter who he is” (p. 333). He won’t lose himself by getting “right up close, feel[ing] the pulse” (p. 333). Cedric has come a long way from the frightened boy who had to watch ghetto life from behind a curtain.
Brown is a good place to learn about the limitations of stereotypes. Chiniqua and Cedric discover them in a black film they go to, called “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” The hero is a ghetto scoundrel who puts down his girlfriend who has gone to college and is a corporate executive but has lost touch with her black roots. Cedric remembers the taunts at Ballou about anyone wanting to go to college being “whitey.” He sees how the simplistic film formula misses the point and does a disservice to his own quest for knowledge.
Even as Cedric is forging ahead, he is haunted by those he left behind. He remembers Jamal McCall, a friend from Jefferson Middle School, who just disappeared. He had gone to his friend’s house and looked through the windows to “vacant rooms. No word, no forwarding address, no good-bye” (p. 327). Jamal is symbolic of all those lost between the cracks. Cedric has seen many boys die or disappear, even as his father disappears into prison. He has an urge to call a number he saw on TV to find missing persons.