undated, 21st century
middle of everywhere, in plain sight
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. So many. I wonder how many times you have ever felt invited to anything. Since the age of 10. I need to write to you about those moments you’ll start to forget your girlhood. You may also have direct moments when your girlhood is lost and/or stolen. I’ll get to that part in a bit.
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. These truths are still intact.
Your life will be a ferris wheel of anxieties. We have to actively struggle to know who our 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 but there’s no other place to go to. 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. But they also suggest 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.
And 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 call you strong. Some days you’ll even believe it. Please understand, my darling, 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. You must go forward accepting and understanding that no one will ever tell you that you do it better than anybody else. Trust my voice but believe your own.
I wish I had wiser, more precise words about desires for companionship with men. I do not. 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 from. Their love is in the right place, for they do love you deeply, hardly, irrationally. But I fear, for them and for you, a grave fall to come.
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.