I know love letters are supposed to make us feel good and I want us all to feel good, but this love letter may be a little different. I have to ask you a question and it’s going to take you to a time when you went from a Black girl free to dream to a Black girl with a mission. So here goes…..
When did you hear the speech? Yeah, that one.
Although there are some slight variations, mine went like this:
“Crystal, you’re Black, you’re a girl, and we are poor. This means that you are going to have to work twice as hard, do twice as much, and understand that you will only get half the recognition, if any at all, for what you do.”
Three deep breaths; Ten steps backwards; Going backwards; Now I’m switchin’ lanesJhene Aiko, Born tired
These are the words of my mommy, to six-year-old Crystal. I’m the one who, despite having the best reading and writing scores in kindergarten, wasn’t getting any awards during the awards night. I’m the one standing in the back of the elementary school cafeteria (in a now poetic like Rosa Parks moment) trying to figure out why I wasn’t in the front of the cafeteria with the award winners.
I know you can replay your experience in your head, just as I do mine. But Love, I know you’re tired of this speech, but it drives and haunts you in a way that feels unshakeable. How can you break free from the very speech that rings like an echo when you’re the only Black woman in the room or how can you overlook the poignant fact that in our community working twice as hard as a badge of honor? One you paid a price for.
Actually, I want you to know that we’ve paid the price time and time again, but we convince ourselves that the next time will be different. No? Is that just me?
I mean, this speech has caused me to stay in romantic relationships longer than I should, piled on additional honors classes when I didn’t need them, said ‘yes’ to folks at work when my plate was already full, honestly, it’s the reason I have multiple degrees. In each of these instances, and the others I purposely failed to mention, I went into it thinking I’d learned to drop the speech’s grip and lean into my own and eventually realized I was back in the loop.
I know you’re working hard to get out of the loop of constantly putting work on yourself and higher expectations on yourself because you’ve been conditioned to believe that you’re supposed to. But Love, you need to reverse the loop and instead of working twice as hard, rest twice as much, instead of expecting less, expect twice as much, and instead of doing more for others, do twice as much for yourself. It’s not that you deserve this love, you are this, Love. You are the very essence of light in this world. Humanity was birthed from ancestral wombs, bodies, hearts, and minds that are just like yours.
Love, the only way to break this is to realize your existence is enough and the beauty in you feeds the good in humanity. Anything you do beyond being yourself is nothing but a gift to this world. This love letter goes to every Black woman who feels the weight of the speech and just needs some encouragement to let it go. Find a real passion in life to feed your ambitions. Running from your nightmare and running towards your daydream may both involve running, but it feels different to run towards light than to run from the dark.
Rest your weary heart; Dry your teary eyes; I know you are scarred; And torn apart inside Inside, inside, inside Darlin’, so am I, so am Ijhene aiko, born tire
Love, I want us all to feel this freedom. I’m writing this letter to you just as much as I’m writing it to myself. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to see us all break free of trauma from the speech. I’m just as elated to think of all the daydreaming Black girls out there who will never hear this speech. This may be a love letter to you, Love, to break our loop, but this serves as a time capsule that future Black women will find and thank us all for the broken chains and gifts of freedom we left behind.