It was a simple request and yet in asking my permission for what should be a natural progression, it triggered my worst fears on a week where news of Black and Brown girls gone missing in the nation’s capital is finally starting to get the media coverage it deserves.
After months of my parental nagging about getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, my daughter (who is now in middle school) wanted to learn about a possible activity but it required being at school a half hour earlier than the official start of school. Given our island residence, that meant getting up an hour earlier to take the earlier ferry to the mainland and rather than taking the school bus as usual, she and her friends would walk the mile or so to school at 6:35 in the morning. Her friends have done this trek before. Island kids before them have done this trek. Hell, it’s probably some type of rite of passage as an island kid. A chance to walk the city early, grab a doughnut and head to school sans the adults. A taste of freedom.
Yet in my mind, all I could think about was the fact that at 6:30 in the morning, the city is just starting to stir as the street people start getting out and about; the same ones I have walked past who have made comments about my blackness. The ones who leer, the ones from whom I have made sure to keep my girl sheltered. In that moment, I was aware that her white friends don’t face the same challenges that she faces. Yes, there is the potential for leering and catcalls but there are the ones who also will single her out for her color in addition to her gender; the potential for people to single her out when they might not single out her other friends.
I reached out to the mom of one of the girls, who felt that with three girls making the trek, there would be safety in numbers. Also, her daughter, one of my girl’s closest friends, had done the walk before and knew the most direct route for avoiding the more unsavory elements that might be walking around at that early hour. I talked to my daughter’s dad who admitted that he had his concerns but that she is getting old enough to start being able to walk around on her own off the the island. I said yes, but not before giving a list of directives that including calling me as soon as she made it to school safely and that if she forgot, that would be a mistake she would not want to make.
In the end, the girls got up early, hopped the boat to town and the dad of one of the other girls gave them a ride to school, thus calming this anxious mama’s heart. Yet I know I cannot hold her as tightly as I have; I have to give her space to test her wings. In some ways, it was easier with her brother. The circumstances between his father and I demanded a trust that now seems naive in my middle age. Yes, I had fears for him but I always trusted that he would be okay. My son is my emotional and mental doppelganger. His warrior spirit was always present. My daughter’s warrior spirit is not yet present; she trusts in the goodness in the world and in people and until recently I have wanted to preserve that almost ethereal quality that has been present since birth.
Yet in a world that consumes Black women and girls with little regard for our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being, I find myself at the crossroads. As her mother, I must equip her with the tools to navigate this world but at times I fear that the harshness will be too much for her. At times the burden of Black motherhood feels to heavy to carry and yet my work isn’t only to love and nurture but to literally take her sweetness and stuff it down enough for her own survival. That is a task that no mother should have to consider but, for Black mothers, we do many things that our non-Black counterparts don’t have to do.
We live in a world that has little value for women and girls like us. I probably have written this more than a few times but with my daughter growing ever closer to the teen years, I feel a greater sense of urgency around just how undervalued we are in this society. I feel it in my own life, I see it in the lives of other Black and Brown women whom I know. Some days when I think too hard about how for most Black women our worth is only tied to our labor and what we can do for others, to quote Marvin Gaye, “it makes me wanna holler!”
I want a better world. Not for myself but for the beautiful Black and Brown girls who deserve to stay cerebral and light throughout their lives instead of being forced into society’s roles and/or forced to adopt separate and unnatural personalities with which to protect themselves from the worst of society’s predations and oppression. I am not quite sure of how we get there but damn it, we have to keep trying. In the meantime, I will work on stuffing down my fears so that my daughter can start taking the baby steps she needs to make as she starts the transition to the teen years.
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