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An open letter to America's Black girls: You are not alone

It’s been a hard year. This letter is for the gaslit Black girls who need to read it.
Image: Illustration shows a Black woman's hands holding a mirror with a younger Black woman in the reflection.
It's not just you. Things are hard right now — but we're going to be alright.Simone Noronha / for MSNBC

Dear Black girls,

This letter is for you. This weekend marks one year since Breonna Taylor’s killing during a police raid in Louisville, Kentucky. For some of you, it’s been another year in a string of years since you were born that’s featured adults acting out, behaving in ways that are harmful, unreasonable and just straight-up foul toward Black girls and young women.

Some, like Taylor’s death, have sparked movements for change. Too many others fall below the mainstream’s attention, leaving us to bear the brunt of the effects. It would be nice if we could just ignore those incidents, because sometimes showering something with our attention only empowers it.

On the other hand, as this last year has showed us, staying informed on what’s happening in the country can also empower you. Then, whenever someone calls you overly sensitive, dramatic or “crazy” for declaring that Black girls across the gender spectrum have a unique experience in this world compared to other young people, even Black boys, you’ll have all the receipts. So, let’s do this: I’ll run down some of the events from the last few months with links in case you want to know more details.

We have to begin with the police and other authority figures who are harming Black girls, even in schools and other safe spaces. It’s also almost impossible to avoid the videos of this harm that are being plastered on social media and news articles. Yet the response to this harm and violence against Black girls is different from the way society, even our own community, responds to the same police violence against Black boys and men.

Politicians in at least two dozen states are trying to ban transgender girls from playing school sports with their cisgender sisters, for no other reason than wanting to spread hate and divide the country.

Famous pastors and other figures in spaces that are glorified and powerful have been telling Black girls and women how to behave so they can fit into their own narrow definitions: definitions of what is good and right and proper; definitions that are not the same for young boys or men; definitions that put all of the responsibility of an impossible idea of perfection and righteousness on the shoulders of girls and women alone.

Adult celebrities famous in our community have been accused of doing bad things to Black women, even those who they are in romantic relationships with and who they work with.

Singers and actresses that were once the same ages you are now 20-something adults. They have not stayed the same children that the adults are used to, they aren't behaving the same now as when they were young, which adults find confusing — and scary. And so, Black girls and women like them are also being shamed because of society’s unfair and unequal racist beliefs about their bodies. Despite what detractors say, individuals have control and say over their bodies, and the belief that there are right and wrong ways for bodies to look is 100 percent false.

You may feel confused. You may feel angry. You may feel ignored. You may even be wondering why, when adults are looking back at how mistreated white celebrities like Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan were in the 2000s, your current mistreatment is being overlooked.

But you are not imaging the pain you and other girls like you feel at all. It is unacceptable that it exists, because you are just as human and valuable as the people who cause it.

You are not imaging the pain you and other girls like you feel at all. It is unacceptable that it exists, because you are just as human and valuable as the people who cause it.

I keep track of all of these events because even as a Black woman I sometimes need to run through the receipts and prove to myself that I am not imaging or overestimating just how messed up things are right now for us.

Also, I’m a journalist, a career I entered to tell the stories that I did not read or see growing up myself. Even after years of this, having to process disturbing, stressful events like the ones I listed above back-to-back can be traumatic, mentally and physically, especially during a worldwide pandemic. And the list of offenses has only grown since I first sat down to write this.

This is a letter to assure you that I see you and value you. So do the countless Black adult women of all backgrounds and identities who were once you. We are fighting daily to ensure your safety, protect you, hear you, respect you, and love you. Know that.

Image: A collage of photos shows the author, Patrice Peck, as a young girl.
The author as a young girl.Courtesy of Patrice Peck

There are Black women writing open letters just like this one, calling out those same celebrities and the adults that allow them to continue hurting Black girls without expecting to be held responsible for their actions or decisions. I had the honor of collecting some of the letters that Black women have written to their daughters, much as I am writing to you today.

There are Black women of all different professional backgrounds using their careers and their work to tackle systemic structural violence against Black girls through groundbreaking projects like BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, The Black Girl Freedom Fund, The Museum for Black Girls, Southern Black Girls and Women's Consortium, and Girls for Gender Equity.

There are Black women researching and writing and sharing studies and reports that prove you really are being unfairly and unequally treated at school and beyond, and being misrepresented in the news and in mass media. And they’re not just offering up smart solutions to this gross mistreatment; they are also using their own power to be the change wherever needed.

There are Black women defying the people trying to shame them, which makes those trying to dim our shine react in all types of negative ways. They are celebrating themselves, having fun with themselves, loving themselves, being kind to themselves, and giving themselves a break because it is more than OK to not have it all together, even for a very long time.

That’s not to say that there also aren’t Black women who have been influenced by the same corruptive systems behind all of this foulness — systematic racism and sexism, and the unique fusion of these twin ills called misogynoir. It is important to acknowledge that this is sometimes the case and that when Black women are the ones causing the hurt, it can sometimes sting the most and stay with us the longest.

Black girls, this is a letter to help you feel less alone, to remind you all just how powerful you are. It’s not your fault some people feel threatened, intimidated, envious and just plain salty.

Black girls are copied and imitated from their fashion to their beauty to their dance to their music to their slang to their inventions and innovations. Why? Because the drip is simply unmatched.

Black girls code. Black girls ball. Black girls snap. Black girls compose. Black girls checkmate.

Black girls, this is a letter to help you feel less alone, to remind you all just how powerful you are.

Black girls dream up many of the viral dances and challenges that start on social media before taking the world by storm. Who choreographed the “Renegade” dance, making TikTok dances a thing? Jalaiah Harmon. Who followed her lead to make the “Savage” dance? That one was created by Keara “Keke” Wilson.

Black girls make history in all arenas: 16-year-old actress Marsai Martin became the youngest executive producer in Hollywood history at 14; 10-year-old Adeyemi Dakota launched her own online school to teach Black History; and 9-year-old Kaitlyn Saunders performed skating routines at the same White House inauguration at which a Black South Indian first-generation American woman made history when she became vice president.

Black girls demand change at the front lines of some of the biggest revolutions happening in the United States and on every continent, fighting for Black lives, climate change, environmental justice, LGBTQ rights, and so much more so that we all can live in a better world.

Black girls survive and live and shine because we have nothing to prove — because it is enough to simply exist. You don't have to be famous. You don't have to have followers. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be the person who everyone and everything is trying to force you to be in so many ways, all the time. Black girl, you are enough just as you are. And the same goes for the incredible Black person you will undoubtedly become.

With love,

Patrice Peck