Whether it’s think-pieces on institutional racism, feminism or misogynoir, your mother is usually fearless with her opinions, no matter how frightening the topic may be. However, nothing has scared me more than writing this letter to you and all the little black girls that for now, live peacefully in the haven of their mother’s womb, oblivious to the violence of the world outside their own.
You see, black kids are born into a world where the odds of survival are stacked against them. Even when you were the size of an almond and I found out about you, my first visit to the clinic involved a sort of counselling about surviving the long journey ahead of us. It’s there that I learned that black babies have the highest mortality rate and the highest rate of preventable deaths globally. I learned that black women in South Africa are more likely to suffer miscarriages and have the highest rate of stillbirths.
I could tell that the nurse was preparing me for the worst because there’s so much uncertainty surrounding your life in the body of an oppressed black woman in a country where all the systems, from healthcare to police services, are perpetually anti-black women. That’s why when you are quiet I worry that something is wrong and I realise as I’m writing this, that it is a permanent feeling because whether you’re seven months, 15 or 35 years old, there is a constant threat to your life. So your silence will always be cause for concern. Unfortunately, black girl, we live in a world where the death of black youth is not an anomaly — your survival is.
Just the other day on 16 June 2019, South Africa celebrated “Youth Day”, which ironically commemorates 43 years since black children were massacred by apartheid police in protests against the regime. Some were as young as 12. But of course, this means nothing today because the world tends to shrug off violence against black bodies — especially black children.
I’m not trying to scare you, but I share this with the hope that it will equip you with the strength to be courageous in the face of oppressions you’ll face once you come into the white man’s world.
Your dad and I, who by the way is already madly in love with you, have agreed to teach you everything about your history as soon as you can speak. Too often it is history and education, or lack thereof, that have been weaponised against us. Used to fool black people into believing that we are inferior, meant for subjugation and destined for slavery. But of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is there has never been a single period in the history of African colonisation where black people weren’t organising, revolting and fighting against settler colonialism one way or another. The truth is there is a permanent historical conflict between colonisers and the dispossessed that will soon manifest to you as landlessness, racist violence, capitalism and exclusion. And the truth is you are coming into a society where black girls are over-policed, under-protected and over-looked.
Not only will historical ills seek to weigh on you, so will society’s ills. I can only hope that this part equips you for assaults against your self-esteem. Society is obsessed with the bodies of black girls and even black babies. A currency or value will soon be placed on your priceless life. You will be judged for the way you look, the way you talk, walk and your hair. You’ll grow up in a society that criticises and devalues your natural appearance, simply because you’re a black woman. I want you to have the courage to block out those critiques and the wisdom to refuse to give anyone’s construct that much power over you.
More than anything, I hope this letter teaches you to fight. Black women of different intersections are at the bottom of social hierarchies. This construct permeates in black communities and even in ideological movements where you’d expect to find life-long comrades in black men — that in itself will prove to be a struggle. But don’t give up on them, they too are a black woman’s child in a white man’s world, so instead of being silenced by any brutality, I hope you raise your voice louder and your fist higher.
There are so many lessons you will learn about resilience and courage from black women activists who paved the way for us. You will learn soon enough that you are not alone and because of that, you’ll have to muster up the courage to keep fighting against injustices, against subjugation and against the status quo. Audre Lorde teaches us that our silence does not protect us. It gives the oppressor the power to put words into our mouth and speak lies on our behalf.
As much as I want to shield you from the world, I have hope that you, little black girl, like all your foremothers, are born with the God-given courage to fight. Beyond that, your dad and I promise to not only love you infinitely but devote our energies to helping you reach your full potential, realise your passions and blossom into an unapologetic black girl.
Thabi Myeni is a student activist and writer whose work has been published in The Independent UK, Pambazuka, HuffPost and Afropunk.