My daughter will be 3 next month.
I have a litany of affirmations that I whisper in her ear daily. I tell her, “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are brave. You are the best daughter ever and I love you forever.” Sometimes she will run up to me and demand (in all of her toddler exuberance) “tell me a secret Mama.” I know exactly what she is asking for and I always comply. I’m never too busy to build my little girl up. A few months ago she started whispering the same affirmations back in my ear. She has an amazing ability to know just when I need them. “You are the best Mama ever! You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong. You are brave.”
We giggle and hug and kiss and return to what we were doing.
Every single day when I am about to walk out of the door to head to work she has something important to tell me. I lean down for my kiss and my hug. I whisper her affirmations in her ear and I head towards the door. She’s usually playing or getting ready to eat breakfast but as soon as I reach the door her little legs bring her barreling to the hallway to impart some words on me before I leave. Sometimes it’s toddler babble. A collection of words that make sense to her. “Watch out for snakes Mama. Don’t forget to jump high.” Sometimes it’s a story from a previous day that she has already told me. Sometimes it’s a promise to, “be a good listener.” Sometimes it’s a teary, “I’ll miss you mama. Have a good day.” But it’s always something.
I have to remind myself not to rush her. I have to remind myself that being late for work is not important in the great scheme of things. I have to remind myself that I can’t just tell her that she is the most important thing in my life. I have to SHOW her. So I stop. I listen. I smile. I respond. I give more kisses and more hugs. I always walk out of the door smiling. Sometimes I’m smiling AS I run down the stairs and pray that I’ll make my bus but I am always smiling.
She is the most important person in my life. I want her to KNOW that. I want to SHOW her that. My love for her colors every single decision that I make in my life. My love for her has changed the way I see the world. My love for her has infused me with a DESPERATION to make this world a safer place for her. My love for her makes me a better person every minute of every single day.
I believe in the power of love. I have seen love perform miracles. I was raised that to believe that if I followed all of the rules and if I was pleasant and palatable to people life would be good. I would be safe. I would succeed. I was raised to believe that I have a responsibility to my community to represent the best of us. I was raised to believe that if I performed well I would be accepted and thereby earn further acceptance for all of my people. I have tried for a long time to make my people proud. I have tried in my work and school life to be a good ambassador. I have swallowed my anger when confronted with outright racism and the micro-aggressions that Black people encounter regularly. I have attempted to explain, educate, justify. I have agreed to disagree with people who were DEAD wrong. I have arrived early and over-tipped and not eaten fried chicken in mixed company. I have tried.
I resigned from my self imposed role as ambassador when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was set free. I realized that the people whom I interact with daily were not learning any lessons about my people from me. They had cast me in the role of “other.” They saw me as, “different from other Black people.” They were comfortable enough in this assessment of me to speak ill of a murdered young man and to praise his murderer in front of me. I quit. I realized that trying to be non-threatening was not helping. I realized that packing up the pieces of me that make me me gave them a false sense of who I am. So I quit.
Now I have this little girl. This innocent and beautiful little girl who looks to me for everything. I don’t know what to teach her. I keep praying about it and writing in my journal about it. How do I prepare her for a world where her chocolate skin frightens and offends some before she even gets a chance to open her mouth? How do I empower her to shine her light in a world where people who look like us are murdered with impunity? How do I keep her safe in a world where she can’t get in an accident and knock on a door for help without being shot dead? How do I keep her alive? I’m struggling.
I believe in the power of love. I know people who are all shades of the rainbow who embody love. But how do I protect her from those who present themselves as friends only to later reveal that they don’t see us as American citizens worthy of all of the rights and protections as White citizens? How do I protect her from that hurt or at least build her strong enough to over come it? How do I lead her when I feel so very lost myself?
People who don’t know better will call this blog race baiting. They may accuse me of playing a mythical race card. Their denial of my reality doesn’t make it untrue. Their denial just allows them to dismiss me. But I’m still here. I’m still struggling with these questions. I’m still trying desperately to raise a beautiful, smart, brave and strong little Black girl.