Dear Beautiful Black Baby

Dear Beautiful Black Baby, I can't tell you how many times I’ve drafted this letter. Every time I do, the world changes.
Steven Johnson
February 28, 2022
Listen to Steven read "Dear Beautiful Black Baby"

Dear Beautiful Black Baby,

I can't tell you how many times I’ve drafted this letter. Every time I do, the world changes.

I have come to understand a few things. As far as letters of imparted knowledge should go, I think this one won't follow the Hallmark special scene of some amazing epiphany. No, there are no protagonists, because no one is here to save us, no heartwarming music, and no triumphant embrace. I don't even know if you will come to be. But I want you to be.

Nonetheless, I feel a duty—maybe misplaced—to say something, anything, in the hopes that the world you inherit will be better. That this missive, Lord willing, will be obsolete.

I wish for you to dream, whoever you are, if you are. I want you to believe in a world where imagination is a vehicle of exploration, of magic, and of majesty. Not the moments of mental vacancy I am prone to, dreaming of a world thathadn't broken me yet. Called me everything but a “Child of God.”  I've put myself together more times than I can count, each time leaving a little behind to lighten the load. Maybe that has made me a better person, maybe not. Dreaming is a sacred duty, Child, and one we too often are too weary to do. Had I dreams anymore, they would be of a future that I hope you would possess—a world where love is kind, and where my faith in humanity and the God I grew up to believe in weren’t invariably linked to the newsreel of unarmed black bodies slain in the street on an all-too-often basis.

Everyone has an opinion on who you are, what you are called, and where-/how-/with whom, this, that, and the third.

Everyone has an opinion.

Even when they grin and lie to your face and say they don’t.Everyone has an opinion.

They will call you things you could never imagine for yourself, some good, some bad. The only thing that matters is what you call yourself, in your loneliest moments. They will call you things you could never believe for yourself, knowing yourself, and seeing yourself as you are. I wish I had the wisdom here to tell you something, anything, that would shield you from that fate. One none of us have truly been able to escape—only endure—but alas, that endurance is what has made us strong.

Know that, in your secret place—whether that be a bathroom floor, a shower, a barbershop or salon, a doorstep my hypocritical ass will tell you not to darken—the only thing that matters is how you speak of yourself in lovingtruth. Don’t carry that emotional luggage. I am doing my best to lighten the load before you board this train with me. I’m really trying. This wheel, this loom of self weaving pain, anxiety, trauma stops with me. At least, that is the lie I am telling myself.

But is it a lie if I do my damndest? In the event I fail, I will want at least to leave you something. I have nothing to give. Neither did my Momma. Neither did her Mother, and her Mother before her. But in every instance of maternal love, they gavethe next in line something. Is that a paradox, yes. Material wealth is not a pre-scripted line in the narrative of my ebony skin. Nevertheless, I wish to give you the resistance, joy, and victory that is possible in throes of pain. Even though they haven’t visited me in a while.  

No one taught me to be a man, only to be afraid. This thing called Father was a wound so deep it cut me afresh to utter its name again. And predisposed to this word, I knew my only recourse in life was to change, and change I did.  But the world showed me that I didn't belong because mother was only left to those who woman, and I couldn't woman enough. So they beat me, called me names and told me the only thing my dis-gendered body was good for was fear, defilement, and death. I escaped the last, but the fear I carry with mem and, well, the scars, are visible.

I never learned how not to fear, how not to be afraid, and maybe that's why I am afraid for you, Little One.

Forgive me if I haven't remembered how to hope again.

I’m trying.

Maybe I will someday, and this letter will be for naught. But this body and heart of mine has seen so much sorrow, I dare not give it to you.  So please, be patient with me, I am trying to undo and rework the universe. So that you can carry this banner further than I ever could, beyond what I could imagine. They are out here killing babies in the streets, in our homes, in our sacred holy places.  I dare not give that to you.

So hold on, Beautiful Black Baby. The world is changing, and we must change along with it. I am preparing the table for you.