To my darling niece, Ximena:
I do not know the day you were born, yet you are here. You chose to come a few months early for a time such as this—the last days—the end of an empire. Because you are Black, this can be a mean world, but you are loved so the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.
You come from sanctified folk. We speak in tongues and lay on hands and history moves. Your grandmother—my sister—can see things that are not as they were. A prophet, she is. Your grandmother will tell you, no doubt, never to lie. Wagging her finger she will admonish you: “If you lie, you will steal and if you steal, you will kill.”
America has done all three. For over four centuries, your people have been haunted and hunted by racism—a spirit ever-present in the very air we breathe. It surrounds us and continues to do its due diligence to remind us of its omnipresence. Racism is a staple in Black life. Your mother, no doubt, will warn you to be careful, as will I, and most every person that cares for you. We fear for you–knowing what a dangerous life you lead as a Black girl in a world whose axis turns on White supremacy. It is an act of faith to tell you to love but when a hated people love, it is revolutionary. And you were born to revolutionaries.
To be Black in America is to be terrorized, but to refuse to be terrified. That is where love comes in. With all of the death and dread coming at them, your mother, grandmother, uncles and aunts love hard. And there is no “but”. They loved you into existence. That has been our gift to ungrateful nation—love in the midst of hate. No matter how battered and bruised we continue to love in a place born of thieves—stolen land and people.
The occasion of your birth is marred by death. An unassuming young man laid waste to folks who look like you as they worshipped in our freedom church. We are not safe, even in the house of prayer. This is not new. In the decades before your arrival, it was commonplace for our kin to have their lives ended and limbs torn asunder by madness. So the Mother Emanuel massacre is familiar. Nine saints—four of them preachers –welcomed a stranger into the holiest of holies. Six women were slaughtered like a Savior.
America has quickly washed its hands of the matter—claiming that racism is a thing of the past while a disgraceful flag billows over Charleston. Blaming the horrific event on an unstable individual rather than an unsustainable society. Some have suggested that the attack was on Christianity. It was. But we believe in a different god than they do. One who is just and loving and on the side of oppressed. It is the tradition of your church to open its doors to all because few were open to us. It was their love that got them killed.
The era of your entrance is riddled with contradictions. We may not have a Black president by the time you are old enough to vote. There will be many more martyrs. The saints of Emanuel will be joined in mere hours by names we do not know, faces we have not seen from places we have not heard of. Racism is lethal and frequent, dear one.
With love comes forgiveness. The families of the slain have already forgiven the shooter but we cannot absolve the country. America is your country—do not let white folks tell you no different. Like it or not, you must bear this burden – insufferable as it can be. Always hold the land of your birth accountable to the ideals it always projects around the world yet occasionally practices at home.
With all of that said, you were born at beautiful time. A new generation of leaders has emerged. Brash and queer and fearless, they are. Seldom do I fully understand their genius and rarely will your elders understand you. But know this to be true. You are well loved—an answer to slave’s prayer; you are ours and we will resist.
Lovingly, Uncle Sekou
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is author of urbansouls, Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and Democracy, and the forthcoming Riot Music: Hip Hop, Race, and the Meaning of the London Riots of 2011.