A Letter to My Unborn Black Daughter

05/22/2015 02:46 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016

Dear Daughter,

Everyone has been talking about your brother lately, about how he has been killed, maimed, denigrated, and harassed by forces that are outside his control. Of course, the fact of men like your brother being killed, maimed, denigrated, and harassed by forces outside of his control is a narrative that has been told again and again long before the Constitution was even a glimmer of an idea in James Madison's mind. Your brother is hurting, and it's going to take a drastic change in how we fundamentally perceive black men and black people before he's allowed to play outside after the streetlights come on, walk down the street, or live a healthy childhood again.

But this letter isn't about your brother. It's about you.

And that's the central problem, isn't it? That you, my black daughter, have always had something to say (or someone who wanted to say something to you), but the needs of others were invariably placed before your own. As if those needs were more important, or as if black women were incapable of being victimized in the exact same way. Black women can be killed, tasered, beaten, raped, and humiliated just as viciously as black men. Yet, the stories of your suffering rarely rise to the level of national consciousness. It is not your death that generates think-pieces on the tangible effects of institutional racism, nor is it the story of your mangled, beaten body that prompts the assembly of a panel to discuss race on the evening news. It is not you because it is your brother. While we worry for him and condemn the fact that we are forced to raise sons for whom their blackness and their masculinity operate as a death sentence, your life matters too.

Unfortunately, the reality of your needs being postponed or ignored is nothing particularly new. Your foremothers contributed to the abolitionist, suffrage, Civil Rights, and feminist movements, and every time they asked to receive the just rewards of their activism, they were told to wait. Black women have always found themselves in a curious position in the history of American activism. They were both everything and nothing at the same time. They could be oppressed and mistreated just as often as any white woman or black man, but because of the dual oppressive forces of racism and sexism, black women were often disregarded by leaders of these movements because of one part of their identity. So a black woman can join the feminist movement and still fall victim to classic instances of racism, and she can also become a pro-black activist and still face sexism from the inexplicably all-male leadership.

And, daughter, if it wasn't enough to struggle to find a safe haven among the movements that should, ideologically, be your strongest champions, you'll also face criticism about your body as well. You'll be criticized for your hair, your weight, your hips, your breasts, your nose, your skin, and your lips. You'll grow up in a world that denigrates the way that you look, naturally, as a black woman. You will be positioned as the antithesis to beauty, the simultaneous Mammy and Jezebel to Scarlett O'Hara, the darkness to the light, and, to an extent, the evil to the good. And then, after about twenty years, you'll have to congenially acclimate yourself to living in a world that praises those same appropriated physical qualities on the cosmetically and surgically-enhanced bodies of other non-black women (and you can't make a fuss about it obviously, because no one likes an Angry Black Woman).

At least, by then, when you are grown and I am old and off my soapbox, men like your brother will hopefully stand in solidarity with you, holding demonstrations in your name and giving you the respect and dignity to which all humans are entitled. It does not appear that way now, as the black men of this generation perpetuate the myth of the superiority of fair skin and loosely curled hair, dancing around the fact that hegemony demands that a subject group (black people) adopt the aesthetic and ideological standards of a dominant group (white people). Moya Bailey claims that the cause of all of this internalized racism is connected to misogynoir--misogyny that is directed specifically toward black women. And she's right--how else could you explain black men who claim dark-skinned black women are universally undesirable and condemn black women for their sexuality?

If you or one of your sisters is slain, I hope that by then, far more than 100 people will gather to protest your murder and prevent the loss of more black female lives. There is no deeper anguish that I can think of than losing you, my daughter, and knowing that no one will be there to help me mourn your death. It is unfortunate and a sign of my time that I so often dwell on the thought of you being taken from me so soon. I dwell on it not only because the world will have lost a remarkable young woman under extremely violent circumstances, but also because I know that even in death, your voice will not be heard in its truest, clearest form.

Just as your brother is repeatedly called a "thug" in the media both when he is dead and alive (mostly because it is generally frowned upon to call black people the N-word in the national news in 2015), the narrative that the media constructs about your identity will revolve around making you seem slightly less than human, trapping you right beneath the American social periphery and turning your death into another desensitizing pinprick in the larger tragedy of devaluing black lives. For every picture I send in of you wearing your cap and gown or standing with your robotics team, there will be an ill-gotten image of you in a black miniskirt and halter top, pushing the fallacy that the way women dress has anything to do with their sexuality or whether or not they deserved a cruel, premature death. And I'll fret over the "good" pictures of you, devastated that I have to work so hard to prove that my daughter, my baby girl, was a human being and that human beings don't deserve to be arbitrarily murdered.

You won't be here for years and years, if ever at all. But I wanted you to have this, to know that you are not alone, and that you have an obligation to the black women who have been silenced to continue their work. Audre Lorde said that "your silence will not protect you." Daughter, you have nothing to gain from shrinking and diluting yourself to fit into the tiny dreams of what others would like you to be for their own personal gain. Being silent does not guarantee you protection from danger, scrutiny, racism, or misogyny. If you fail to offer up your own words, they will place their own wrong words in your mouth and expect you to speak them without complaint. Silence has, throughout time, never been the solution to any of our social ills. But speaking, and speaking loudly and unapologetically, may very well be the answer.