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Black and Brown laughter

October 7, 2012

by Tony Robles

If you’re a native San Franciscan, you know the sound. It’s as sweet as the smell of BBQ ribs and cornbread and sweet potato pie when the city had soul food restaurants all over with Black folks cooking in black kitchens on black grills with black pots and pans bubbling music in the background, in the foreground – all over.

Imagine that, Black folks cooking soul food in a soul food restaurant – not like what you see when you walk in the city today. The Black and Brown laughter I grew up with was nourishment; it told me where my mother and father had been, where my ancestors had been; it told me who I was.

Black and Brown laughter, like the smell of adobo, tortillas and rice, chow mein – nourishing us and keeping us fighting for things that mattered: our elders and children and community. Black and Brown laughter, the sound of struggle, the sound of strength – the sound of legacy; the laughter of our skin, with the scars and sweat filling the air with the fragrance of our lives.

Black and Brown laughter.

San Francisco, where is the Black and Brown laughter? All I hear is empty chatter, tinny voiced cell phone code, no laughter, no music, no nothing.

But sometimes you hear it. It comes like a friend who knows you, who’s glad to see you. And the beautiful sound came to me a couple days ago.

I was on Muni heading home. I was anticipating a surly driver followed by a bus full of empty faces. The driver was a Filipino guy who grew up in the city – a Filipino who’d grown up in the barrio, the ghetto, the neighborhood. How’d I know? It was his voice and the way he tilted his head to the side.

He said four words: How you doin’, brother? It was the voice of ungentrified Frisco, the voice of my father, my uncles – the voice of my life. I felt relaxed and alive, like I’d walked into my grandma’s old living room. He drove several blocks before coming to a stop. He rose from his seat to make way for the relief driver.

The relief guy got on and the switch took place. It was an African-American brother, from the city too – I could tell by his voice, his laughter. The two drivers talked to each other, laughter of Black and Brown intertwined and beautiful.

How you doin’, brother?

It was voices saying, “You ain’t right, man” and “All right now” and “Man … you late again … What you doin’, starin’ at all the girls?” And the men looked at me and I said, “No, the brother was on top of it … he wasn’t lollygaggin’… fo’ real.”

And they laughed, their laughter drawing me in. I felt at home in a city that’s feeling less like home.

Tony Robles, co-editor of POOR Magazine, where this story first appeared, can be reached at


6 thoughts on “Black and Brown laughter

  1. Brian Lawson

    If it feels less like home…then it's a time for change. A time to grow up, a time to move on, a time to become a man…a man of change for the betterment of his community, a man of change for the betterment of his country, a man of change for the betterment of his family! 0r you can stay where you are stuck in the past, stuck with no future, stuck with no hope.

  2. James

    With no past, you have no future. I'm not sure what this has to do with being a man, unless you're looking to join the police force.

  3. Brian Lawson

    James you might not have read what I wrote down and you failed to understand what I was saying. If you're asking me all I got out of it is "A time to grow up, a time to move on, a time to become a man" then you're obviously stuck on something other than what I got out of the article.

    Your second failure is when you “assumed” that I said to forget your past…no where did I say that, but you got stuck on it. But that’s ok since I already know a man that has no past will fail in his future. But what I was saying was a man that is "STUCK" in his past will not have a future, because he is stuck in his past, yes??????

    And your third failure, is not understanding that this article is about a man stuck in his past and longing for it…that’s what I got out it! Not sure what the “unless you're looking to join the police force” has to do with anything, unless that’s your feeble attempt at sarcasm. If that’s so, then you failed a fourth time.

    1. James

      I think you assumed that someone was stuck…i think you are stuck on this concept, which fails to see the poetry and emotion of the piece. Perhaps its lives in the gray area, in between the "either black or white" one that you live in.

  4. Brian Lawson

    Now you “Failed” again…"You" are an "Epic Failure” and assumed again!!! Nuff said can’t argue with someone that assumes, since they can never get it right.


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