Black History Month

I Know Why the Dungeon Shook

My Beautiful Amazing Loving Daughter,

I cannot tell you enough that you were conceived in love, no mistake, no “heat of the moment” indiscretion. Nothing reckless in your creation. Under a waning moon in a Boston playground your mother and I planned you, from the America in my DNA to the wanderlust coursing her veins. You are the better world we wanted to create for you to live in. I see you. I am proud of you. I love you.

I started to write this letter June 20, 2021. The first woman of color was inaugurated as vice president of the United States. A testament. Lessons I’d hope to instill about you believing in you with purpose. Self actualize! Now is your time. But that moment didn’t garner enough celebration to shake free any expression of hope I hold for your future. So I stopped. I started again, when Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the first Black woman US Supreme Court Justice. Again I stopped, but this time to contemplate the regression America has undergone since you were born in 2003.

You never met my great grandmother, but there was one day you and I sat up late at a friend’s kitchen table. You were six, refusing to go to sleep. As we spoke, I saw her smile, her round face and almond shaped eyes in you. I never imagined how similar the world I raised you in would be to hers.

The world being reduced to keystrokes and view screens, bigotry and racism has us (our country) tethered to a time loop of domestic terrorism based on skin color. It was never my role to teach you what to think but how to think. I hid nothing from you. Being a Black Girl Dad in America is not easy. While cognizant of my responsibility to keep you safe, you were unaware that holding your hand disarmed biases of white women who’d normally feel fright when approaching me. Sometimes I’d cradle you to deflect the white gaze when we stood out. My way of raising you was substantiated when you accompanied me to a friend’s Christmas party. A woman kept the distance of a dinner table between your Black Body and her pristine whiteness. You told me to watch as you walked around. If there is anything you inherited from me, it’s the ability to communicate with your eyes. Your face was smug in confirmation. On the way home I gave you “The Talk.”

Asha, you are the most beautiful language I ever spoke. Unfortunately there are Americans who would prefer to never speak your name. Toni Morrison is quoted as saying “I want to discourage you from doing things that are safe. Things of value rarely are.” You are a Black Woman in America and very unsafe, so you are of value, but carrying the weight of race is not yours to bear. You don’t have to produce “Black Girl Magic” upon command for a country that consistently demands you prove your worth. Being self-actualized in systemic structures makes your hair a target. Standing in your truth offends the entitled. I was exactly your age in 1991, when my great grandmother passed. The Army flew me to our family’s land in red dirt, kudzu covered, backwoods Georgia. I refused to let the white woman behind the laundry counter call me “boy.” The next day at the breakfast table my great uncle gave me his version of “The Talk.” He told me “don’t talk to these white folks down here like you do up north. You say yes sir, no mam, bite your tongue when they call you boy, and never look them in the eye.” This is the reason my mother left Georgia in the first place, in 1962.

In the book “Between the world and and me” Ta-Nehisi Coates encourages his son to continue the fight for equality while, in my opinion, he instills his fears surrounding racism by sharing the transgressions of white people he experienced. Baldwin wrote a letter to his nephew entitled, “My dungeon shook,” imparting his wisdom of educating the ignorant country men who lose their humanity when interacting with Black People. I was five at the feet of women discussing the same topics we are now experiencing. But our government is enlisting your body in rights conflicts reminiscent of slavery. I wish you could’ve heard great grandma’s stories, she would say, “I was a slave, my mother was a slave, my mother’s mother was a slave.” If only you could’ve heard her. My dearest daughter I want to tell you to hold hope that one day things will change, but history is our best teacher. You come from three generations of Army veterans. Three generations of stories of facing the same injustices even after proving ourselves patriots. We didn’t serve for you to live under oppressive systems.

I know why the dungeon shook. James Baldwin was being nice when he wrote “some countrymen have lost their humanity.” I say this country was founded on not having humanity at all. Equality is perceived oppression between two shore lines on a small landmass compared to the world. Just live. Know no boundaries other than the limits you set for yourself. You are more valuable than the imaginations classifying your rights according to sex and skin color.

I want to leave this with you. The words that when they were told to me, were told to me with love. Baby, you got to walk in this world knowing you are loved! Because you are loved.

My deepest love
Your Father.