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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hey, Black (Girl) Child...

About every other month out of the year, I work with children on weekends at my church.

I used to work with the 4 and 5 year olds, but wanted to experience the overwhelming adorableness that is 1-year-old walkers. And take a break from raucous 4 and 5 year olds.

These little tikes are probably the cutest things you'll ever encounter. They are from families of many different backgrounds, ethnic groups and nationalities. They have their own sets of feelings and emotions, interesting personalities, likes and dislikes, etc. It's refreshing to see uninhibited human interaction.

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of greeting (among many others) the sweetest, brown-faced little girl. I greeted her with a big "hello" and a kind smile as I picked her up to bring her into the room with the other little ones. She didn't smile back, but she was kind and her face was full of contentment.

Later, while playing with all the kiddos, my co-teacher commented on my little sweet, brown-faced friend's demeanor. Baby girl was quiet, contented, played well with others, and genuinely chill. And because she wasn't as loud, lively, or interactive as some of the other 1 year olds, my co-teacher stated that "she does have a little attitude."

I admittedly caught my breath in my throat; it felt like a bolder. My ears were hot with frustration from the violent words I'd just heard. My stomach turned with hurt for the little girl; I felt sick. While her mind may not have fully conceived what was being said about her, I knew the damage those handful of words could cause. I attempted to reinforce positivity by saying something along the lines of "she's just independent and quiet...observant." I continued to reiterate this in different ways throughout our time with the kiddos. Not just so my co-teacher could hear it, but so Baby girl could maybe see how those positive reinforcements outweighed that bad one of an unfortunate many to come. So that her quiet strength and contentment can ring loudly in her ear above presumptions about her character.

In case you were wondering, my co-teacher is non-Black and female. Yes, this matters. Here's why...

As a Black woman who once was a Black girl child, I can share my hindsight views when it comes to being a Black girl child in an overwhelmingly white [male] dominated world. I often questioned myself, my feelings, my actions or inactions, my intellect, my reservations, the validity of my very being.

When a white student's hand was picked over mine to answer a question in elementary school. When a white student said "nigga" in my presence in the lunch line in middle school and didn't recognize her wrong when I acknowledged that she shouldn't have said it--even in my own uncertainty of why she shouldn't have said it, I knew it was not okay. When in college a non-Black professor questioned the honesty of my work by accusing me of plagiarism in a classroom full of my non-Black peers. Or the many times I felt non-Black voices were privileged over mine because perhaps I was too angry, attitudinal, or presumably not as smart or as critical a thinker as the other kids.

Whatever the reasons, as a Black girl child, existence is exhausting from the beginning.

Baby girl was minding her sweet, brown-faced business being 1 year old and adorable when she was presumed to be attitudinal by a non-Black woman. 

This assumption that because I'm not fitting into your perfectly cut-out box, that I just don't fit at all. That I have to be "on" all the time. But if I'm fully feeling, I'm overemotional or overreacting; I'm a bitch; I have an attitude. These kinds of notions are damaging at best. Even to our children. More specifically, our girl children.

A Black girl child doesn't have the space to be listless, neither does she have the space to be fully feeling. At least not in this society. And if/when we are to claim that space and take it up completely, we must fight for ourselves and one another to do so.

So, as a response to my co-teacher and as encouragement to my sweet, brown-faced little friend and all other Black girl children...

Hey, Black Girl Child, an adaptation from the work of Countee Cullen

Hey, Black Girl Child
I know who you are
Who you really are
You are just like me
And there have been many telling you what to be
But if you try, you can be
What you want to be

Hey, Black Girl Child
I don't know where you are going
But you have a choice in where you are really going
I know you can learn
What you want to learn
If you try to learn
What you can learn

Hey, Black Girl Child
Don'tchu know you are strong?
I mean REALLY strong?!
I know you can do
What you want to do
If you try to do
What you can do

Hey, Black Girl Child
Be what you wanna be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation
Will be what you want it to be...maybe

Until then, just be

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