Editor’s note -This is a piece written by Harriet Thugman, originally posted here
Dear Little Sister.
I have been watching you from a distance. Your coal-colored eyes, your coffee brown skin and your toothless smile; The way you flap your lanky arms, your fearlessness spreading throughout the playground, your perfect Lilliputian knees exposed through ripped tights, skin color akin to the trees and your nose, reminiscent of the continent that inhabits your bloodstream. Your fingertips are stained orange, exposing remnants of those pungent potato chips you kids seem to love so much. You smile when you play, an Ivory-white, crooked smile. You use your never-ending imagination to astound the other children in the playground. The weight of the world weighs heavily on your underdeveloped womb… and you? You just play numbers and double-dutch with your girlfriends, roll your neck at the promiscuous boys and sing! I watch you, Black pearl. I watch you hover above the rest. You are as beautiful as your tiny hands.
My sweet Black pearl; you are unique. They try to reduce you but I say you’re a beautiful creation, meant to astound millions of eyes, both blind and seeing, for lifetimes to come. You are meant to be adored and adorned. Do you know what unique means? It means that you are one-of-a-kind. This is why I call you Black Pearl. Black pearls are rare and found in the most incredible bodies of water, oceans away from those hateful people that treat you as if you’re beneath them. Nature designed those pearls in that way so that they could be untouchable. So you, Pearl, are untouchable. You come from a history of untouchables, a long-standing line of women whose legacies live within your eyes. I will talk to you about them later, when your spongy mind grows absorbent enough to retain the power of your lineage.
I know that school has been quite tough for you lately. Yesterday, a Puerto-Rican girl in your class made fun of you. She said that you were a monkey and made fun of your hair. She said it was nappy, dirty and ugly. Her hair is silky and it sits atop her shoulders. All of the little Latina girls in your neighborhood are pretty. At least that’s what everyone in your family says. They always admire the pretty little Latina girls. “Look at her hair! So big and pretty! I wish she was my daughter.” I know that this hurts you, Pearl. Your family says these things while you’re standing there. They embrace the beauty of your mixed-race cousins. They revere the features of your vanilla-colored classmates…but they never say anything about you. They choose to ignore your presence and dismiss your Black body. You do not understand why they do this. You look like them and they don’t seem to think they’re as beautiful as the other people that they praise. When you try to express your feelings they tell you to hush. They silence you. This teaches you remain silent and internalize the self-hate. It teaches you to love others whom you’ve been brainwashed to believe are prettier than you are. This is not right, my jewel. Every single one of these people suffer from a sickness that is far too complex for your young mind to understand, one that you don’t want to contract. Your mamas, aunties, classmates and all of the other folk that refuse to acknowledge They are ill, my pearl. Your mommy and aunties don’t understand their power. Your classmates cannot grasp how regal you are and how your hair spirals out of your head and coils into a perfect, mahogany crown.
The mean Latina girls don’t understand why you smell like Blue Magic, or why the ends of your beads smell like Pink Lotion, or why there’s so much Sulfur 8 in the spaces between your braids. They don’t understand the food that your hair needs to be fed. Sometimes they laugh at you; call you greasy, shiny and ugly. As a result of this you searched to seek refuge in your Black brother. You were under the impression that they would fight for you because they looked like you. Oh, but they didn’t! They made fun of you, too. Said that the Latina girls were prettier because they had lighter skin and longer, straighter hair. You rolled your neck in retaliation and told them to “get out yo face”…but, deep down inside, you were hurt by their words. You fought for your Black brothers on the playground. You told everyone not to mess with them, to leave them alone. You thought they’d do the same for you but they didn’t. They laughed with the Latina girls and told you that you weren’t beautiful. You were left on your lonesome. You wanted to cry but didn’t shed a tear in front of them! Oh, Pearl. I wish that I could have placed a medal around your neck. It’s an unspoken, inherited strength that you will carry with you throughout your life. You didn’t feel beautiful at that moment, Pearl, but you are. They don’t understand your power but I do.
You went home that day to tell mommy about what happened. She wasn’t paying much attention; just nodded her head and replied “mmm, hmm”. She was too busy tending to her relaxed roots and sewing in her silky, Brazilian extensions. She ignored you and it broke your heart. You went into your room and cried, salty streams of disappointment and confusion cascading down your cheeks. You hated Mommy right then. Hated her smelly hair relaxer and her lack of acknowledgement. I wish that I could have held you then, Pearl. I wish I could have stepped in and wiped away your tears. I wish that I could have cradled you in my arms but I was too busy fighting my own battles. I wasn’t there at that moment but I am here now. I’m here to teach you how to love yourself, to love your big hair, your soon-to-be ample backside and your fierce attitude.
I am writing this letter to you with a grand promise. Like a clam, I vow to always protect you, to shield you, to shelter you from harm’s way. I am here to remind you of where you come from; to bestow Black history upon your pre-pubescent mind; to transfer all of my strength into the beads at the ends of your braids; to instill courage in each cornrow I braid onto your head; to transfer positive energy from my skin onto yours; to switch your hips to instruct you on how to ignore hateful projections by singing the blues; I’ll show you how to perfect your urban supermodel walk, for every strip of concrete is a Kente-clothed runway that you are meant to stomp your feet on. You will learn to command respect through double-dutch, how to care for your crown, how to moisturize it, how to express rebellion through each sprouting strand, how to dress it and cover it with the finest African cloths. I will remind you that your thick tresses are beautiful, unique and often duplicated. I will let you play in my makeup and highlight your wide nose… because that’s what big sistah clams do for their pearls.
Most importantly, I will remind you that beauty is not contingent upon skin tone. My pearl, you do not have to be light-skinned, Latina or White to be beautiful. Beauty comes in many different skin shades, hair types, sizes and ethnicities. Blackness is a part of your rich history. Its existence has survived thousands of years. Your identity is related to the appearance of an uncommon piece of jewelry, something so beautiful that it cannot be reproduced. A Black pearl.
Little Black pearl. Little Black girl, you are beautiful and I always vow to be the sun that fuels your tiny little universe.