Dear Tamara, Kwane, Angel, and Harmony:
It hurts me to know that you will be already judged because of your skin color. I know. It is sad, and it is unfair, but I want you to know despite of what other people think you already are, I want to part to you what I know to be true. That you will always matter. I will always see you.
Blackness Is Who We Are
Tamara, Angela and Harmony, little black girls enter into this world already knowing that Blackness is not beautiful. That your worth is measured against Whiteness. That you should be a White standard of beauty. It killed Pecola’s spirit in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It wore her down where she didn’t stand a chance to have blue eyes, white and fair skin, and blonde hair like Shirley Temple. The world of Whiteness weighed her down and smothered her until her soul was a shell of nothing. That frightens me because I don’t want you girls to experience that. I want you to know that you are beautiful. Chocolate skin is beautiful. All colors of brown are beautiful. Whiteness is beautiful as well, but it becomes ugly when it becomes the dominant standard in everything of our lives. It strips away in what makes us special. Blackness is special, too, and there is room for us because we want the same things that all American citizens want. Love, laughter, and lucky charms. Yet, we should not have to sacrifice parts of who we are to achieve it or receive it.
Kwane, being a little black boy is just as tough in this country. You are told that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, and brave enough. Our country teaches you to be afraid of your own shadow. There are hardly any of Black men in the Sciences, Mathematics, Humanities, and other disciplines and spaces all over our country. It pains me to tell you that most of you are in the prison system. Most Black boys become Black men, and by the time you become a man, you are most likely have to visited a juvenile system over five times, and sadly, you may have graduated in visiting a jail cell or a prison cell. I want to tell you that being violent isn’t the way to go. It doesn’t solve issues because those issues are over 240 years old, and we are still counting how those issues continue to exist. I want you to know that you are smart enough to love knowledge because I know. Knowledge will help set you free. I am not talking about just acquiring information. I am talking about analyzing and synthesizing information. It is called critical thinking skills.
I believe that you and your sisters have the ability to think outside the box. I want you to grow up and occupy the spaces that we need Black folks in. We need more Black scientists, teachers, doctors, scholars, professors, lawyers, psychologists, writers, etc. Even if you don’t pick that, I want you to know that you matter because I see you. I see what you are able to do. I can see it because I am you.
Flemings/Flemmings Are Who We Are
Many Flemings/Flemmings don’t fair-well in our family. Your Grandma Janice Mae was hardly satisfied. She always called herself dumb and did not have the support of her school and our family to attend college. Instead, she got pregnant with me and went on welfare. For twenty years, she was on welfare, and she thought that it was her best that she could do. The folks in our family, especially the women…we keep moving, but we pay a hefty price. We become estranged from each other. We turn on each other. The only comparison I have to this is in Sula (also by the great Toni Morrison) when Hannah, Eva’s daughter, asks her did Eva ever love them (Hannah, Plum, and Pearl). Hannah says, “I didn’t mean that, Mamma. I know you fed us and all. I was talkin’ ‘bout something else. Like. Like. Playin’ with us. Did you ever, you know, play with us?” And Eva’s response is: “Play? Wasn’t nobody playin’ in 1895. Just ‘cause you got it good now you think it was always this good? 1895 was a killer, girl. Things was bad. Niggers was dying like flies. Stepping tall, ain’t you? Uncle Paul gone bring me two bushels. Yeh. And they’s a melon downstairs, ain’t they? And I bake every Saturday, and Shad brings fish on Friday, and they’s a pork barrel full of meal, and we float eggs in a rock of vinegar….”
My mom loved Ashley, your mom, and me. However, she didn’t show it with kisses and hugs. She showed it with in teaching us how to survive. There are no hugs and kisses when you are moving because a Mama has to put food on the table. She has to make those decisions that we will exist in the world because she sees us even though I didn’t think that she did. She did the best that she could, and I cannot hold it against her for not giving me hugs and kisses because I understand now. I understand because I am a Black woman now. Even though I operate in different spaces than your Grandmother Janice, I understand what it is to fight because it is in our DNA to survive. Survive first and ask questions later. However, those of us who go beyond survival, like I have, have to reconcile that survival is a coping mechanism—and I have used it to hide behind the racial trauma that I have experienced. We have to figure out that level of…how okay are we? And that it is okay to admit that we have suffered from trauma and find ways to provide self-care for ourselves. I know. It is hard because W.E.B. DuBois describes it as double consciousness. A part of double consciousness is to worry about our survival in our home (our country) where we feel like we do not belong. I have found ways to go beyond survival, and I am here to help you as well because it is important the next generation of Flemings/Flemmings survive and seek within ourselves to become better than what we are.
Black Bodies are Black Souls
My heart is filled with sorrow because our Black Bodies aren’t viewed as Black souls because Whiteness makes us appear invisible. What White supremacy continues to do is to create double consciousness for Black folks who come into this world. All four of you will feel, at times, that you are pull into two worlds. You will feel that your Blackness is pain. Your Blackness is inopportune. You will naturally fight against accepting your Blackness because it is the opposite of Whiteness, and America values Whiteness. What is Whiteness? Whiteness is a system where everything is pristine, perfect, and perky. Whiteness is positive. Speaking and writing perfect English is Whiteness. Making straight As is Whiteness. Bleaching your skin is Whiteness. Having a lot of wealth is Whiteness. Being White is a part of “The Dream” that Ta’Nehisi Coates discusses in his autoethnographic work, Between the World and Me. I believed in The Dream, too. The Dream is when you work very hard and defy all obstacles that come in your way in achieving your own wealth. What comes with that wealth is getting married, having children, and living in a house on Main Street with a white picket fence, animals of your choosing, a very nice sedan, and great neighbors like you. However, The Dream excludes any of your Blackness because Blackness isn’t included in The Dream. Black folks are told…if you work hard, you will become Oprah Winfrey. From most White folks, Oprah Winfrey represents all of what “successful Black folks” should be.
But The Dream, as a wise classmate shouted, is bullshit. It is bull because I don’t want you to spend all your life thinking that all of you have achieved a standard of living that isn’t everyone’s reality. Yes, you will see others on television, in films, in books, and even in real life living The Dream. Yet, let me lift the veil for you. A dream in this sense is a mirage. It is something that we had been conditioned to believe we all have the opportunity to achieve. It is not true. Black folks have gotten far within over 240 years, but it hasn’t been that far for many of us. Those of us who occupy spaces in academia and industry and domesticity struggle still because we still look at ourselves through a lens of Whiteness. We still use Whiteness as a measuring stick in what we are not. We are NOT WHITE. We are born under a system that gives all Black folks a disadvantage. We never got our reparations, so that set us back. When we created our Harlem Renaissance, it fell hard, and all we have is remnants of it, and thank the Universe for that. Thank Zora, Langston, Alaine, Claude, and the rest of the Harlem Renaissance crew for creating that because we wouldn’t know that we ruled a part of America for a little while at least. Even then, Zora’s Black body fluttered away without no one knowing until Mama Alice Walker erected and resurrected her by creating a monumental marker and letting us Black folks now…she DID EXIST, and she was more than just a Black body. She was a Black soul.
Who I Am
Right now, I have realized that this born Augusta County, living in Bleckley Country college graduate of Baldwin County and forging her way to a doctoral program in Clarke County Flemming is someone visible. That being Black is power, pride, and persistent. I have to work on it every day loving the parts of myself that I didn’t know exist. Being BLACK is our birthright. It chooses us, and I am grateful. I am grateful that I come from people who are innovators. Who are creators. Who are groundshakers and groundbreakers. People who have endured Slavery and Jim Crow. Most of all, I am proud that I come from a group of people who still fight beyond the good fight.
I don’t want all four of you to just keep moving because it is for survival. I want you to dance after you learn how to move. I just don’t want you to survive. I want you to exist. And then, I want you to do more than existing. I want you to fly. Then, I want you to learn how to soar. It is never easy being Black in this country. I don’t know if racism, Whiteness, White privilege, and White supremacy will disappear all one day. Yet, we have to continue to combat it. I want all four of you to know that your Blackness is GOOD. It does matter. You matter. I see YOU. I will always see you.
Your Aunt Sophia