By NICK CHILES
Baby girl, I have some things that I need to say to you.
It breaks my heart that these words are even necessary, that a black father has to have this conversation with one of his children. I wanted us to be beyond this, for our community to have moved past the pathology and self-hatred that sometimes threatens to engulf us.
I stand back and observe the nasty things that are being said about you and I want to wrap my arms around you and squeeze so hard that you can’t hear any of the ugliness, so hard that it blocks out the pain and wrenches out the grief. The accusations, the blaming the victim, the silly finger-pointing, are like a second wave of attacks on you, attacks that may be even more damaging and hurtful than the brutal things those boys did because these attacks are trying to penetrate your soul, to melt into your psyche. If you can, baby girl, run away from the words. Bury yourself in a Harry Potter novel or a Hannah Montana marathon.
But before you go, let me explain some things to you. What I must do is tell you about real black men. I want you to know these things because I have a son who is 7 years older than you, a nephew who is about your age, a nephew just a little younger, and they all have friends, many friends. In other words, I am surrounded by black boys. And if, in 15 or 20 years, one of them should come your way, I want you to know what a fine young man looks like, what he sounds like. I want you to have some familiarity with the proud young princes in our community, so that you might be able to wash off the unthinkable things that were done to you and one day find a measure of peace and happiness. Perhaps even with a young black man. That is my prayer for you.
If your memories should become clouded by ugly thoughts, your judgment damaged by pain, I want you to have this as a reference point, a few words that might serve as a guide.
See, we have for too long been consumed in our community by an overpowering need to protect our boys. It is an impulse that is easy to understand, surveying the hideous history of violence, degradation and emasculation our boys have endured. But with this sheltering comes its unfortunate consequence: the infantilizing of black boys. We treat them like misbehaving children who don’t know any better and, behold, that’s what they become. We excuse their horrendous misdeeds in the name of racial solidarity and, little by little, day by day, they slough off any vestiges of responsibility for their actions. They become less than whole. They become weak and egomaniacal and tyrannical, lacking self-control, lacking discipline, lacking perspective on their place in the world.
Baby girl, let me describe to you what a real black man should look like, how he will feel.
He will not ever raise his hand to you for he has been taught that an assault upon you is an assault upon his mother, his grandmother, his sisters, his aunts and all the nurturing souls who have unconditionally showered him with care.
He will not raise his voice to you for he respects your mind as well as your body and he knows that bluster and intimidation are really just a camouflage for weakness.
He will listen to you and really hear you for he will understand that your need to share your days and your thoughts are your way of connecting with him, bringing him into your mind space.
He will bring joy into your life for he knows that your joy is the true key to his happiness, perhaps the most important thing he can achieve in his life.
He will tell you what you mean to him. To be able to peer into his own soul and reveal the contents is an unfailing sign of manly strength and it also happens to be magic to a woman’s ears.
He will protect you but not disarm you. True protection is not smothering; it is providing you with the security to try and sometimes fail.
He will love you. And his love will feel like the most significant ingredient your spirit will ever encounter.
You may already know these things about a real black man; perhaps you have some around you or have come across them in your childhood. But I write this letter to you on the chance that this man I am describing, a real black man, has been a stranger to you. If he has yet to make his introduction, do not despair, baby girl. He is out here, watching over you, praying for you to emerge from these traumatic days with at least a small measure of dignity and self-assurance. He wants you to be able to work through your pain and confusion, then to look upon the community of black men that surrounds you and see his caring smile, his steadying hand, his strong shoulder. He is waiting to show you that he does exist, he does treasure you, he does want nothing but the best for you. Don’t be confused by the noise, the shouting, the ugliness that swirls now in your midst. That is just the sound of clowns in search of another circus. Unfortunately they will probably always be among us, but when you learn to turn down their volume, they are not hard to ignore.
I will close this now, my young princess, because I don’t want you to dwell on these things. I want you to smile again. I want you to laugh. I want you to play. Because that is how you teach your heart to sing. And we all can’t wait to sing along with you.
[Editor's Note: After reading our MyBrownBaby post, "Gang Rape In Texas: When Will We Stop Sacrificing Girls In Defense of Black Boys," Nick was moved to pen this letter to the 11-year-old victim. I extend a special invitation to the mothers and fathers who've read this powerful prose to leave empowering and loving messages to and for this child, and the many more like her, here at MyBrownBaby and at the Little Girl Loved FaceBook Group started by MyBrownBaby friend Robin Caldwell. We also suggest you follow @littlegirlloved on Twitter and, with the hashtag #littlegirlloved, share this post and the many e-letters we hope to collect for this child. Let's lift her spirit and let her know that if her town won't support her and her family, we certainly will.]
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of eight books, including the New York Times bestselling tome “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms,” co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. Nick also writes for several publications including Essence, where he frequently pens stories about fatherhood and manhood.
[Flickr photo credit: cliff1066]