undated, 21st century
middle of everywhere, in plain sight
To black girls everywhere,
There are letters to us about finding things and people, about how to lose other things and other people. There are books to us, prayers to us, for us. I wonder how many times you have felt invited to anything. Since the age of 10. I
need to write to you about those moments you’ll start to forget from your girlhood.
may also have direct moments when your girlhood is lost and/or stolen.
As you mature, you will feel both connected to the world and alone within it. There
will be a constant tension around you where people “discover” who was racist from
long ago. You will have to learn to be surprised. Because, as a black child, this is
what you know in your bones the way you know your momma’s change in pitch:
that racism and white supremacy — words you can’t yet spell but still sense — are
outside. The hatred and sheer disgust of our bodies and minds was and is the norm.
For anyone to have thought otherwise, that was the oddity.
Your life will be a Ferris wheel of anxieties. You will have to actively struggle to know who your brothers are. We are told when they are killed, we are told they are
imprisoned. The ones not in those groups seem distinctly far away.
Our problem is slightly different. We’re not disappeared, we’re displaced to nowhere. We come from the same place that denies us citizenship. You’ll feel disarmed without realizing your guard was up. You’ll be surrounded by so many red lips smiling around the whitest teeth, the richest dark skin in bright fabrics. You’ll look up the word “couture.” You’ll be told that you’re magical, but many days you will not want to be so goddamn magical.
You will see some of us on the covers of those same glossy magazines that the white
girls always read. You’re going to face a lot of trickery. Words like magic suggest
lightness and power and a centuries-old truth-myth about us: that
we can withstand anything. That we can do it all. And you will, my dear. You will do
it all. And you will do it brilliantly, fantastically. Routinely. It will hurt. But the only thing worse than a black girl in pain is a black girl who says that she’s a black girl in pain. So you say nothing and they will call you strong. Some days you’ll even believe it.
Please understand, my darlings, I am not diminishing your pain. I am giving you the prologue. You must go forward accepting and understanding that no one will ever do it as well as you do, and no one will ever tell you that you do it better than anybody else.
I wish I had wiser, more precise words about desires for companionship with men. I can tell you that you must not expect men to be as capable as you are. If you want a woman, be prepared to ache. To demonstrate your love and union with another woman is absolutely revolutionary and, indeed, self-preserving. But to openly want, love, and possess another woman is radical and explosive. Be prepared to burn.
Girls like you and I are special guests to private parties, the elite schools of the
Northeast. My mother did it to make me a citizen of the world, first, and to be better
equipped to face old white men, second. You, I fear, have been placed here for the
more magical reason of escaping these old white men. I fear your parents may have
mistakenly thought by sending you here you’d be protected, you’d be safer, immune. Their love is in the right place, for they do love you deeply, hardly, irrationally. But I fear a grave fall, for them and for you.
You are not protected.
You are not safe.
You are not immune.
What being in these spaces achieves is a necessary exposure. You’ll be stripped naked and raw over and over starting from age 11. Try to do some of this stripping yourself, try to have some control, even if it looks ugly. Know, understand and accept this:
That they were meant to be killed.
That we were meant to be raped.
Do you see, none of us were ever meant to survive? That is why everything is exploding as it is now. It does not matter if I love you. Wear your armor brazenly. It will give you a running start.