Dear Beautiful Daughters Who Happen to be Racially Ambiguous,

By the time you understand this salutation, you will have had years of pretty privilege you neither understand nor appreciate. Where we live, "pretty" is a racial project that began long before you were born— a project that has no foreseeable end.

You will see your kind of pretty in print ads, commercials, television and movies. Please look elsewhere. Develop a keen eye for interesting things: the shape of an eye, the slant of a mouth, or the character of hair left to do what it wants.

You didn’t earn pretty, so don’t be afraid to lose it. Cut all your hair off. Wear overalls like Janie. Play in the dirt. Wear what you like. Create looks. Go Goth. Age without complaint.

You need not accept the standards by which you are judged. You also need not apologize for these standards. Your confession won’t save anyone, and to barter in guilt and forgiveness is to miss opportunities to create the world you want to see. Collective work guided by this vision is so much more rewarding than deconstruction turned against your own face.

Use your privilege for good. People will listen to you, so please have something to say. Read, listen, and engage. Repeat. When you realize that other voices are missing, use your granted power to bring them into conversation. Please don’t speak for them. The tellers of hard-to-hear stories need ears, not translators.

Don’t let just anyone touch your hair. You have no idea what kind of energy they’ll leave behind.

Should you be accused of misusing your privilege, listen. Assume complicity, direct anger toward the project (not the people), make changes when necessary, and continue to do your work. Don’t go all Grant Hill on hurt people; exercises in missing the point take too much energy.

Please, for goodness’ sake, don’t be a sexy cat for Halloween. You’re pretty every day; why waste this day on a leotard and facepaint?

If being a sexy cat makes you happy, be a sexy cat.

Know that your complexion is not makes what makes you pretty, nor does the darker skin of any other girl make her less pretty. Know that there are people who believe this, and don't ever let their confusion and self-hatred become your own. 

Here is a good use of time spent in the mirror: Find traces of ancestors known and unknown. Greet them. Thank them for the reminders they stamped across your face. Don’t curse anything they left behind.

If you are lucky, the people most enamored with your face will be your parents. They will watch you while you are sleeping, learn every story that your eyes tell, and worry when the corners of your mouth are turned down. They will always call you beautiful. When they leave this realm, it will be very hard for you to give a damn if anyone else agrees. If you should learn to smile again, each smile will be a victory. Take pictures. Laugh triumphant.

Be a poet, a painter, or an architect. Be someone who creates. Only then will you understand beauty is more about the effort than the product and that no poem, painting, or building has a right to vanity. And no creator, divine or mortal, despises the work of her hands. The value of the work  is in its being, not in its subjective acceptance.

If you’re going to be naked in the media, please do so for a cause, like PETA or child trafficking. The latter was sort of weird, but only you get to decide how you use your pretty.

We hope that by the time you understand this letter, the advice is obsolete—like reminders to get off of the land line during a thunderstorm.  If it is, forgive our folly and continue your work.

We hope that you are better than us. We have really messed things up.


The ones whose love is real.