I’m tired. Sick and tired, really. It is rather exhausting to constantly debate the value and beauty of girls like me, whose very basic existence — from our names to our physical traits like hair, skin complexion, facial features, and anatomy — deviate from the European standards of beauty and respectability. Whose melanin and pigmentation seem to cast a shadow of doubt about our worth in this society. Every month, it seems we are confronted with yet another viral, insensitive, and highly offensive incidence of degradation aimed at black girls. From the curious case of Gabrielle Douglas Twitter chatter, to the unforgivable Quvenzhane Wallis verbal cuts, to the shaming of Willow Smith, to the sickening Rachel Jeantel reactions. I could go on and on. And, these are only the highly visible cases — there's no way to capture the thousands of shaming episodes black girls endure in classrooms, doctors’ offices, sports arenas, media messages, and households on a daily. I swear, if we added up all the hours of blogs, commentary, discourse, debates, rationales and confrontations dedicated to fighting misconceptions and narrow perceptions when it comes to our little girls’ hair and image, we’d have a year’s worth of classroom instruction. In case you need to revisit, here’s how a historic moment became a trigger of pain for an innocent Gabby Douglas.
I've devoted a huge chunk of energy doing combat work, trying to get folks to acknowledge our girls. And, while I feel strongly about resisting the stereotypes and stigma as I did on CBS Atlanta, d.i.v.a Downloads, Perri Small Show WVON, and Lady Dee Mind Magick Radio, it is so draining.
It always makes you wonder how much more we can take — that is, until the next time we hear an atrocity such as the recent cases of 7-year-old Lamiya Cammon, whose teacher had the audacity to cut her braids in class, and 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke, who faced expulsion because she chose to wear her hair in its natural state.
How can one even begin to give voice to the anguish and defeat of the young lady who could no longer own her name, because it was not acceptable in her environment. Now one Keisha has become Kylie.
Sigh. So, here’s what time it is. It's time to stop draining ourselves and fighting a losing battle. No more of the Kanye West outcry for validation in places we will never gain acceptance or respectability. From now on, my energy will be spent affirming our girls. Teaching them and empowering their agency. I will speak to their power, their beauty, their legacy, their heritage, their future, and their life.
And, so I penned this letter:
There is so much I want to share with you. So many things I wish you could truly know and believe. All the things us as your mothers and aunts tell you make us sound like we rode dinosaurs to the homecoming dance, and kind of make it hard for you to trust that we understand. I bet you believe we don’t have a clue what your current situation is like.
And, you are right. We did not go through puberty last month. We didn’t have our first kiss last week. It wasn’t just yesterday when we were trying to study for the U.S. Constitution or ACT exam. Nope. We didn’t do our homework on a computer while texting our teachers if we had a question. Most of all, we are not sitting in our rooms trying to think of a way to get permission to go hang with our friends without cleaning the dishes.
Still, there are some things that are just the basics. You know, that stuff that never gets old. The stuff of life that every girl child in your family, dating back to at least six generations, has had to navigate her way through.
1. You are the most special, most important person in your life.
You are a gift who was pre-ordered and given a due date much like your favorite album. The universe waited for your arrival on your birthday. That’s right: Everything shifted and fell into place just for you to get here. When you were on your way, during your mother’s labor, nobody in that hospital/birthing room mattered as much as you. You were the center of attention. The doctors, nurses, midwifes/doulas, your mommy — everyone in that room focused on you, your safety, and survival. Listen, honey, Rhianna, Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, and any other famous person you can think of could have been in the hallway outside of that delivery room, and they would have not mattered. So, you must remember and hold on to that truth everyday. Remember you were born with a purpose and the older you become, the more power you possess to live on purpose.
2. The media is not your mirror.
You are bigger than an image. And, you are not in competition nor have any need to conform to a standard of beauty which exalts your silky-haired, narrow nosed, purt-lipped, nasal-toned counterparts. There are some forces in the world that would have you turn down so they can turn up trying to be like you. There is no need to pretend or exaggerate your worst behavior to be recognized. Be your best self. That is what will make a lasting and powerful impression.
3. Love yourself.
Take time to pause all the static and noise from your iPod, TV, smartphone, magazines, and even your friends. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing and what makes you happy. Write it in a journal.
4. Move beyond the block.
Remember that your zip code does not define you. Even though your neighborhood can be a simultaneous badge of honor and shame, you must understand what you were born into is not who you were born to be. Your current situation is just that. At this point, it is more than likely due to your parents choices and decisions. Your future depends on what you see for yourself. Visualize yourself in the space you want to be. Then, every day, believe in your heart you are already there. Let every thought and action be considerate of that space. Step into it fully. Set the intention to grow there and blossom to your fullest.
5. Love your sisters.
“Girls keep up too much drama.” We've heard it a million times and have to admit I have said it before, too. But, we attract what we give to the universe. Stop the competitive behavior, and do not believe that anyone can take any opportunity from you, what is for you, you will receive abundantly. (That goes for the cutie you are dating, too.) Recognize in other girls the same good things you like about you. I promise you will get along much better.
6. Speak your name.
Say it loud. Think for a second of how special you were when your mother took the time to think of a name that would pour all her love into you, her precious gift. And no matter what anyone else says or thinks of your name, you own it. It is the first thing you will ever own. Honor and respect why it was chosen for you.
7. Celebrate yourself.
I know you love to talk about your favorite celebrity. You follow them on Instagram and watch their YouTube channel all the time. You root for them to win all the awards. But, it’s time to focus some of that energy on you. Standing in the mirror, honor yourself for all the good choices you made today. Take this moment to clap for yourself.
8. Game recognize game.
Adults get it wrong, and we don’t have all the answers. But, there are many of us who love and care about you. We want the very best for you and will use all our resources to get what you need. Look for mentors all around you whether it is a teacher, neighbor, librarian, church member, or coach. And, when you see an adult who appeals to your ambition, it’s okay to ask questions about their challenges and successes. On the other hand, when you see adults acting foolish, in real life or on TV, find another example to follow.
9. An educated mind is the key to the world.
Inquiring minds want to know! Ask questions about everything. Why? How? You can find out anything you want to know just by reading credible and factual sources. It’s fun to watch music videos, but look at some documentaries and read some historical fiction, too.
Each day you are alive and breathing the air of this earth you will hear and see messages that take your mind off of celebrating you. From the ads on the public transportation to the sounds coming from your iPods and smartphones, to the images bouncing before your eyes on the screens, it will all try to turn down your applause for that girl in the mirror. But, if you practice the above, you are winning the game.
Denene Millner, founder of My Brown Baby, is dedicated to lifting the voices of every mom & dad, no matter if you're looking for parenting advice or just a high-five. MyBrownBaby offers a district perspective that's wickedly funny, often irreverent, and always thought-provoking — all filtered through a smart, colorful lens.