Midnight Breakfast

Small Plates

an excerpt from

Black Card

by Chris L. Terry

Editor’s Note

The first time I heard Chris L. Terry read from his newest novel, Black Card, I was instantly hooked. It was pre-publication, at a reading in Los Angeles, and Terry spoke to topics near and dear to my heart: mixed-race identity politics and punk music. I bounced in my seat, knowing that one day I would be able to hold this book in my hands, and here we are.

I am thrilled to be taking the helm of Small Plates, our book excerpt feature where we give you tiny doses of upcoming and recently-published books we love, from presses we love. When our illustrious editor-in-chief, Rebecca, asked me to think about who I would want us to relaunch with, I immediately knew it had to be with Chris L. Terry and Black Card, now out in paperback from Catapult.

“Last time I benefited from looking white, I lost my Black Card.”

This line haunts me the most as we follow our narrator, a mixed-race, punk rock musician, who “must choose who he is before the world decides for him.” To be honest, as a mixed-race person, I am starved for stories in the world that are representative of this experience (although like every experience, it varies highly from person to person, race to race). As artists, and writers especially, one of the most important things we can do, I think, is to create spaces for people to feel seen and heard. This is what I felt reading Black Card, and is one of the things that we hope to do here at Midnight Breakfast.

Not only did I get the serving of a narrative that I am desperate to consume, I got another serving of awesomeness with the music story line as well. It allowed me to relive some of the more energizing and awkward moments of my youth (and I hope it does for you as well).

Enjoy your Small Plate and see you soon.

— Ashley Perez, Small Plates Editor


My lips are full, my nose is broad, and my hair’s a cloud of cinnamon. Usually, black people can tell that I’m black, because we know how to find each other in an unfriendly world. But white people see my green eyes and freckles and assume I’m white. They live in a world where they are the norm. Why would they expect me to be anything but?

Still, there’s something about the way I look that gets black and white people to try to place me. This leads to what I call the “You Look Like” Game, where they explain my existence to themselves by telling me I look like someone else. The more they decide, the less control I have over my own personality.

Here are the “You Look Like” Game’s top scorers:

Kid from Kid ’n Play

The light-skinned guy from a fun early ’90s rap duo that did synchronized dances and starred in some movies that still pop up on cable. He was famous for his high-top fade, a cylinder of hair rising nine inches off the top of his head. He’s also a mixed brother, and basically my color.

The good part about being told I look like Kid is that people love Kid ’n Play. No one’s ever said, “You look like Kid ’n Play. I wanna fight those fools.”

On the downside, I think white people are into old-school black stuff like Kid ’n Play because it’s from the past, and can’t change anything right now.

Embarrassing fun fact: I can’t grab my ankle and jump over my leg to do Kid ’n Play’s trademark dance.

Justin Timberlake

He’s straight-up white, but has curly ramen hair, which I guess is where we sorta link up. He’s also a great dancer with hit songs for days. I actually get called “Timberlake” a lot by black people, but mainly associate it with drunk white girls pushing up on me at dance parties. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m jealous of how much black people like J.T.

Lenny Kravitz

He’s handsome, half Jewish and half black, and dresses like he’s from the ’70s—he probably has a whole shelf just for the leather vests he wears with no shirt. We look nothing alike. This one bugs me. Out loud, I say it’s because his music is bland and unoriginal. Truth is, I’m mad because he’s beating me at my own game: he’s got a better music career, money for cool vintage clothes, he looks blacker than me, and a couple of his songs are pretty ill.

“This light-skinned cat useta work with my sister at the supermarket”

This one’s followed by an expectant look, like I should know the name of this random high-yella cashier. But not all mixed people know each other. We don’t have brown bag parties where we listen to smooth r’n’b and make jokes about people working all day in the field. Sometimes I wish we did, though. Then I’d have someone to talk to about this stuff without feeling like a stereotypical halfie having an identity crisis.

Getting called “light-skinned” is a blessing and a curse, though. It’s cool because it means I’m black, just paler than the average black person. Since being mistaken for white erases half of me, and happens so often that I think I’ve failed at blackness, I cherish being called black. Still, it also makes me feel like I have to reject my white side. That’s why I feel guilty for loving punk rock.

Chris L. Terry was born in 1979 to an African American father and an Irish American mother. He has an BA in English from Virginia Commonwealth University and a creative writing MFA from Columbia College Chicago. Terry’s debut novel, Zero Fade, was named a Best Book of the Year by Slate and Kirkus Reviews. Terry lives in Los Angeles with his family.

This text is excerpted from Black Card by Chris Terry, copyright 2019 by Catapult Books, used with permission from the author and Catapult Books.

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