To the little girl with the plaits in her hair,
With her passport in hand and a jump in her step, you are about to see snow for the first time. Well, actually I mean sleet – that frustrating kind of precipitate stuck somewhere between ice and water – and a squeal of delight will erupt from your lips. It will be magical. You will press your face against cold glass as you are driven to your new home, the first of many. You will see romantic terraced houses, delicately frosted window panes and charming old men reading the daily paper. You are in the land of Lords and Ladies, heirs and heiresses, Kings and Queens. The Motherland. You have arrived.
However, you will soon realise that Mother was not as glamorous as she had led you to believe. The terraced houses will soon feel cramped, the frost punishing, and the headline on the front page of the newspaper warns the old men of people like you. You will soon learn that people like you only live in certain areas, people like you only amount to so much. And your mother will pull you to your feet, look you in your eyes and repeat the mantra children like you know all too well. “You have to be twice as good.”
twice as good
And you will be. You will work hard and you will love it. You will love the gold stars on your work and the library with its countless books. You will love defying those expectations, those limitations. You will love knowledge. And years later, you will realise that the teacher is not all-knowing and you learn to challenge, to disagree. You will start to learn for yourself. You will find that for every William Wilberforce there was a Olaudah Equino and Igantius Sancho; for every Rosa Parks, a Claudette Colvin; and for every Emmeline Pankurst, a Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.
You will learn that dictionaries cannot even begin to unpack the meaning of words like history and truth, gender and race, or even foreign and home. You will learn that home is abstract and your family is global. You will mourn for your brothers who continue to be lynched in the streets. You will weep for your sisters whose burdens are too big to bear. Like your sisters, you will learn that all men were created equal, but women still need to prove their worth. Your body is not yours, your hair is not yours. “You are the maker of your own misfortune. You were out too late, your skirt was too short, your lipstick too red”.
But my dear child, you will also learn of the sweet harmony of sisterhood and the joyous shout of defiance. You will learn of Maya Angelou, Bell Hooks and Chimamanada Ngozi Adichie. It will be black voices that teach you to love, and not just tolerate, your melanin. No longer will you want golden curls or hazel eyes, but take pride in the defiance of your blackness.
You will learn that class divides what race cannot, and name divides what class cannot. There is more to cheese than cheddar and more to dinners than food. Gold stars on your work would never be enough to break the glass ceiling above you. So you will climb up the rungs constructed by those before you, left behind so you could rise. And you will learn to do the same and find yourself uttering those familiar words “Twice as good”.
And there will come a time when it feels alright, smooth sailing and you are enjoying the ride. But you will look up to see others crossing the oceans and seas, leaving their homes to start anew. And those familiar headlines take over the papers, but now there is Facebook and Twitter too. Divide and conquer is truly alive and fear spreads like wildfire with each tweet and snap.
But you remember that people like you, too, were meant to be dangerous. Bringing crime and taking jobs. A threat to British way of life.
And you appreciate all the more how much your parents had to do, to teach you hope instead of fear, pride instead of shame and love instead of hate.
You (fifteen years down the line).
This post was originally published on Black Ballad: http://www.blackballad.co.uk/to-the-little-girl-with-the-plaits-in-her-hair/