I’m sitting in Remington Brown’s brownstone. It’s her twelfth birthday, and we’re celebrating by going to see “You Got Served” while her mother waited idly in her Lexus. We’re unchaperoned and feel so grown-up. Afterwards, we eat so much pink Carvel ice cream cake that my stomach bubbles. Now it’s time for pajamas, and I’m hoping the pair my mom helped me pack is cute enough. We’re all sitting in a circle, eyeing each other’s looks. Three girls are rocking short-shorts and cami sets in soft shades of pink, blue and purple, their long brown arms and legs comfortably on display; another few have donned cotton pants patterned with polka dots and matching tops that have phrases like “I need my beauty rest!” printed across them. The flyest look, by far, is a pale pink nightgown with matching robe. It looks luxe, like something a lady might wear.
The room fills with the sound of high-pitched praise. “Oh my God, your pajamas are so cute!”
Remington’s friend, Jess, turns to compliment me on mine, an olive green set with chocolate brown piping that my mother got on clearance at TJ Maxx and told me was “sharp.”
“I like those,” Jess says.
I’m not sure if she’s being serious.
“They’re different,” she adds, genuinely. I feel a wave of relief.
When Jess asks where they’re from, I lie and say, “I think they’re from Limited Too.” As in, every pre-pubescent girl’s must-have brand. I’ve actually only stepped inside of the store once and was immediately in awe of the candy-colored, pre-teen paradise. Campaign images on the walls depicted diverse cliques of cheery girls chilling beside a swimming pool and eating watermelon wedges at a picnic. It was aspirational. There was even bubble tape at the register, my favorite. But my mother took one look at the twenty-four dollar price tag on a pair of leggings and said, “I can find you something better than this for cheaper. Watch.” I didn’t even bother begging. My mother is a former fashion editor, and she loves a good deal. To her, Limited Too was juvenile and overpriced. Back to the bargain bin. But even if Jess thinks my PJs are good enough to add to her own wardrobe, I know I can’t just announce where they’re actually from. That would just be sad.
“I love Limited Too!” she gushes, and the rest of the girls, all fitted up in their pastel pajama sets, nod in eager agreement.
“Let me see the tag to make sure. I want to tell my mom to get me a pair,” Jess says, pulling at my collar to look. I freeze, sitting hunchback, my upper lip sweating. She’s going to find out.
Jess looks at the tag, curtly says “Oh,” and pats me on my back as if to say “hang in there.” We make eye contact, and I silently plead she won’t expose me. She smiles and says nothing. I exhale.
Remington Brown and I met six years ago in Jack and Jill, the historic, nationwide, invite-only social group for upper-middle-class Black families. Remington’s mother and my mother know each other well, which makes us friendly by default. I like Remington. She’s sweet, and since we live pretty close to each other, we hang out from time to time. But Remington and I are different. She moves more confidently in Jack and Jill than I do. Her family members are legacy, so she knows everyone. Meanwhile, both of my parents are from blue collar families. There’s no legacy here, and I clam up around the other kids in the group whose air of effortless cool intimidates me.
Jack and Jill has chapters in cities all across the country, and boasts the goal of “creating a medium of contact for African-American children which will stimulate growth and development.” What those in-the-know know is that Jack and Jill gives certain Black kids a chance to connect with certain Black kids like them. Certain Black kids who have piano lessons on Tuesday nights, tennis classes on Thursdays, ballet rehearsals on Saturdays. Certain Black kids who summer on Martha’s Vineyard and ski in the winter. Certain Black kids who’ve done an exchange program, or two, in Europe, before turning sixteen. Most of these certain Black kids go to private schools, where it’s hard to meet certain Black kids like them. Most of the kids these certain Black kids meet are white. Jack and Jill helps them build a network that becomes the extended family of certain Black kids.
When my mother’s former co-worker at Essence magazine invited her to join Jack and Jill, she didn’t know much about the group, but jumped at the opportunity because she thought it would help make me well-rounded. For a young Black couple who’d never spent their winters skiing upstate and who weren’t taught the proper fork to use for a salad until they were adults, Jack and Jill was a way to introduce their child to pleasantries, or as my father put it, the “finer things,” typically not reserved for us.
Jack and Jill’s exclusivity earned it a bad rep amongst some as a group reserved solely for “bougie” Black folks who look down their noses at “other” Black folks and do a whole lot of preaching about what the others should be doing better: “If only those boys would pull up their damn pants and get off the corner.” Add to that a knowledge that, at Jack and Jill’s genesis in 1938, you had to be “lighter than a brown paper bag” to gain entry, and the rep feels even more worthy. But the Brooklyn chapter of Jack and Jill was different. Of the 30 or so families in our chapter, a good chunk were rich rich. As in, they really had it like that; they didn’t just rent homes on the Vineyard for the summer, they owned them. But most, like my family, were just comfortable. Not crazily wealthy, but our parents could afford to splurge from time to time. Most of us went to public school, and lived in thorough sections of Brooklyn like Flatbush and Bed-Stuy, not just sleek ones like Park Slope and Cobble Hill. Because of this, we’d seen both poverty and wealth. We knew how good, and how safe, it felt to be closer to the latter bracket.
That’s who’s in this room right now, Jack and Jill and Jack and Jill-adjacent girls, who are rich rich or who think they’re rich rich because their parents are faking it ‘til they make it, and those who are somewhere in the middle. Besides Remington, I’ve never chilled with any of these girls unless it was at a designated Jack and Jill ski trip, community service project, or horseback riding excursion. This sleepover is a first, and I like it. I feel a part of something.
“Okay ladies!” Remington announces, unearthing a glossy pink book with a cartoon image of a slim Black woman sporting a bouncy bob on the cover.
It’s The BAP Handbook: The Official Guide to the Black American Princess. A book that defines this specific breed of Black woman as “1 : a pampered female of African American descent, born to an upper-middle or upper-class family 2 : an African American female whose life experiences give her a “sense of royalty and entitlement” 3 : BAP (acronym) : colloquial expression 4 : an African American female accustomed to the best and nothing less.”
“Drawn from hours of interviews, archival research, and frequent visits to Prada,” The BAP Handbook promised “a rare behind-the-scenes look at this exclusive lifestyle,” including a guide for BAPs in training like us, for “breaking in a shop-a-phobic dad” and “planning a magical BAP debutante ball,” and the rules of thumb for why a true BAP cleans her house before the housekeeper arrives (because we can’t have the cleaning lady seeing our dirt, literally and figuratively). There was also a section on whether it’s okay for a relative to sing “I Believe I Can Fly” at a BAP wedding (NO); a guide to top BAP colleges (strictly Ivies or Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs) and a glossary (including essential French phrases).
Remington got the book for her birthday. Back then, we didn’t know it was satirical. In that moment, it felt like Bible. For Remington and me, and for the other girls who sat in that room, here was a detailed description of a life we could relate to and a manual on how to navigate it. Here was further confirmation that the Jack and Jill meetings we attended—the luncheons hosted by pearl-wearing, well-manicured members of the illustrious Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha—and our tendency to upspeak and praise possessions was not just normal, but something to be proud of. And we’d try our damndest to follow the rules—even if it meant we had to put up a front at times—because that’s what was expected of us.
When I read BAP’s blurb, the narrative voice in my brain couldn’t help but go all “valley-girl.” This so-called BAP chick was conjuring images of Hillary Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel Air notoriety—someone so pampered and privileged they were oblivious (ditzy, even), someone light-skinned, someone with “good hair,” someone with an unlimited credit card. But none of this had ever been me. Still, sitting in Remington’s room and gazing into that BAP book had me fantasizing that one day I’d grow into my BAPpiness.
To put “princess” beside “Black” made me feel celebrated. I could be spoiled, an archetype traditionally reserved for carefree white women. Think Cher from Clueless. BAPpiness combatted the notion that true wealth and access—old money—was “shit white people have.” It demonstrated that Black people, too, could occupy the upper crust.
Remington—short, light-skinned, a perm, and already full D cups—puffs out her chest and turns to a page in the book subtitled “BAP Types.” As she runs her narrow finger across the detailed grid, her stack of Tiffany’s bracelets jingle. “Okay so, Blisse, you are obviously, the ‘Betty BAP.’”
“The Betty,” or the quintessential BAP, is considered a “BAP by birthright who strives for perfection in everything she undertakes.” Blisse, a girl with cinnamon skin whom I don’t know very well, beams. Blisse and I will cross paths a few years later when I’m in the eighth grade, and I meet her brother, Bryce, at a Jack and Jill Dance. Bryce will convince me to cut class and spend the day with him in his family’s freshly remodeled brownstone, since he’s on spring break from boarding school. I’ll do it, and get caught, the gossip setting the Jack and Jill grapevine ablaze.
“Let’s see,” Remington pauses, “Jess, you’re the ‘preppy BAP.’”
“I knew it!” Jess giggles.
“Oh, Glynn! You’re totally the Boho BAP!” Remington exclaims. “Just look at the picture.”
She shoves the book in my face, and I scrunch my nose. The girl on this page is wearing glasses, Birkenstocks and overalls, with her hair in a bunch of little twists. The other BAPs had looked so pretty and poised. But sitting there in an off-brand pajama set, wearing afro-puffs and glasses, I do kind of look like her.
Remington reads, “A Boho BAP is a BAP by birthright whose unique taste in clothing, hair and a bohemian lifestyle are just as much of a testament to her BAPpiness as her parents’ bank account.”
I feel like she’s telling me I’m frumpy.
“You and your mom are Boho BAPS,” Remington explains. Hold up! Is she calling my mom frumpy too? Why’s she bringing my momma into this?
But I don’t object. Instead, I smile, glad to be a BAP of any kind.