February is Black History Month. I’ve never thought much about it because as my friend’s recent Instagram post put it “I’m Black Every Month.” Growing up, my parents taught us about successful black men and women on a daily basis; they did not wait until February for us to learn about people that look like us. But now I am also a mother, and as February rolls in, I find myself reflecting on a lot of different feelings and thoughts. Feelings of fear, unwant, and unworthiness that society oozes, that I’ve chosen to ignore because I know that they are lies, begin to surface. Because now I have this beautiful, smart, innocent little black girl that I am now responsible for. And I know as frequently as her father and I tell her that she is beautiful and enough, society doesn’t think that. And that one day, she will be out in the world and this will become abruptly apparent.
February is Black History Month. And I am quickly reminded that in 1963, a man decided that Black life was not worth anything, bombing a church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four beautiful smart, innocent little black girls. This was the year before my mother was born in that very same city, not far from that very same church. And it was a few years before she was bused across town to be integrated into a white school. My mom’s family came from very humble beginnings, but she was afforded one of the best educations available in Birmingham as America tried to show the world that they were moving past their ugly, dark, racist past.
Growing up, my parents made sure that my sister and I knew that as little black girls, we were beautiful, smart, and enough. But they also made sure to warn us that the world wouldn’t always see us this way. And while I didn’t always believe them, as I got older and experienced life, I slowly began to see that the world does not see the worth of beautiful, smart, innocent little black girls. As my classmates turned their noses at my hair, and my college counselor discouraged me from applying to my dream college (which I graduated from), and as a police officer pulled me over in the middle of the night because of a broken headlight, and as I got passed over promotions because I didn’t have “the look” that my employer wanted front and center, I finally realized that America still does not value beautiful, smart little black girls.
February is Black History Month, and here I am with my own beautiful, smart, innocent little black girl, reflecting on all of the brave Black men and women that dedicated their lives and paved a way for me to be where I am. But at the same time, I also question how far and how much progress we’ve actually made in this post-racial America, and I finally understand the fears of my parents and why they took such care to make sure we understood our worth. And I wonder and worry, how will I make sure that my daughter knows that she is beautiful and smart and worthy in a country that does not see her the same way? And how am I going to protect her from this country, that I love, that both my parents and her grandparents dedicated over twenty years to serving and protecting and that is her home, when it one day rears its ugly, racist head and tries to break her down and negate everything I have worked so hard to ingrain in her? This beautiful, smart, innocent little black girl!