Every year during Black History Month, I reflect on something that has affected me in a profoundly Black way! This year, it was the birth of my cousin’s baby. Even though I live quite far from them, her life brings me so much joy, not only because she is a baby and who doesn’t love a cute baby, but also because of the light she brings to my cousins’ faces when they hold her. Talking about her milestones feels like the definition of love. In a few weeks she turns one. She is the chocolate baby of my dreams and I don’t know how I convinced them but in what was probably an attempt to shut me up, they gave the baby my name as her middle name (can’t wait till she goes through an identity shift in middle school and starts going by her cool middle name, a cousin can dream). I am obsessed with her. Some days, I just look at her parents’ social media to catch pictures of her and smile, especially if I am having a rough day. Anyhow, as her birthday approaches, I have already made her a dress featuring a lovely tutu in green, yellow, black, and red (colors of the African American flag). The top features an emblem of Africa in matching colors. I have also gotten her some books, one about loving your hair and another about Black History. You see, she reminds me of the pictures I saw of myself as a baby. Chubby cheeks and lovely brown skin with piercing eyes. Though my mother (and well much of my family) is what we like to call high yellow, redbone, bright, light skinned with green eyes and straight hair, my chocolate father gave me my hue. I often joke and say I have my mother’s exact face but dipped in chocolate…and everything is better in chocolate, right? In any case, my mother recognizing her own issues with race and migration and coming up in the bay area in the 70s made it a point to lift me up as much as possible. She not only focused on my intelligence but also on my beauty! She called me unique and sweet and talk about how she wished she had my hair. And to this day if someone even hints at not enjoying my presence, she assures me it’s all jealousy (or intimidation if a man feigns disinterest). As if there is no human in the world that can just simply not be a fan of me. On top of just constantly reassuring me (and giving me confidence of steel in the process), she backed up her Black is beautiful cheerleading routine with a healthy dose of history! She put me in an African Montessori school for pre-school and when that was over and I went to the local Catholic school, she made sure my extra curriculars were filled with Black diasporic magic, Afro-Caribbean dance troupes and Black scholar prep academies. In her efforts to combat what she saw as blatant anti-Blackness in society, she made me hyper-aware of my Blackness! And so now as I put together this basket of beautifully Black diasporic magic for my favorite Black baby, I have found myself questioning.
I mean, I look into faces of strangers and people all around me and I ask, do you see race everywhere the way I do? Do you see it in everything? I mean, do you see it in a mother’s embrace or in the curve of my face? Do you see it a grocery clerk’s interactions or in a car dealer’s reactions? Do you see it in a crowd or in that new billboard ad? You know the ad, the one for the brand new shopping center they are building at a premium because it’s in that «up and coming» neighborhood. The ad has all these fair skinned blue eyed patrons enjoying craft beer and quality products, while brown faces walk by only participating as observers to a life denied. Do you see race in that «classic» you are reading or the philosophies espoused in a university lecture hall near you? Do you see it in the sunscreen aisle or the raisons in that chicken salad? Do you see it in the new utopian Hulu series, where they show how even the best conceived future still holds on to racial logics formed so long ago? I could go on and on with this, because I do! I see race everywhere and it is no doubt related to y mother’s vigilance surrounding my self-worth. You see, I don’t get to exist in a world where I don’t have to see it, where I get to enjoy my kale smoothie and wave to the officer passing by knowing he is there to protect and serve. I have been reminded of my Blackness from the first time a kid refused to touch a door handle after me, terrified that my Black might rub off on them. I am reminded when I received the first bit of attention from a man of another ethnicity, commenting in astonishment about my beauty in relation to my skin tone. But most of all, I am aware when I see the behavior repeated for the many younger Black women around me. In these moments, I understand my mother. I am fiercely protective of these young women. And I want them to recognize their worth. So this Black History Month post goes out to my baby cousin, my namesake. May she always remember that she comes on the shoulders of giants. May she always be flashy in her Blackness. May she see it everywhere. May she own it, rock it and stand in the magic of it all! May she wear afro-themed tutus and learn about the power Queen Nzinga and the glory of the Haitian Revolution. May she love fiercely and also protect her peace. And most of all may she stay Black and happy!