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I came to this coffee shop to write a story today. I left my daughter, now a sprite little 6-month bottle of light shine, with the intentions of meeting up with a friend, and then writing a story, a specific story, about my daughter’s hair. Specifically, a story about how others view my daughter’s hair in its natural state. Digging deeper, the need and want for others who are not the mother and father of a unicorn, attempting to dictate how one should treat a little girl’s hair, in particular, my daughter’s hair. Because, we wear her hair like an Afro, like some sort of flag, like a symbol of blood and skin and spirit and ancestors and my mother and her mama and the soils from which both sides of her grandparents grew from.
I had no access to Wi-Fi earlier in the AM, but when I did, I saw the news. At least 50 dead. Largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Popular Orlando, Florida gay club. The shooter called 911 and pledged himself to ISIS. The shooter’s father reported hearing his son make disparaging remarks with regards to 2 men kissing. The shooter’s ex-wife told authorities he was physically abusive and would come home and hit her if the laundry wasn’t done. A mother whose son went missing inside of the cub during the shooting, told reporters, “Please, let’s all try to get rid of the hatred and the violence.”
Today was the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Even if you are not Puerto Rican, if you live in New York City, you are part of the parade — active flesh and feet, gliding across heat soaked concrete, yelling and shouting flavors, salsa toes damp with the sweat of the rhythm sounds. You should not stop dancing. We do not stop dancing, as a people, and as a community. We pray and live in silence, but we do not stop moving. We hug, and give tears, but we do not stop the dancing. We do not forfeit our love for anyone, this America, these people. We are resilient, our politicians will stand at podiums, podiums built on gun powder and slave ankles, and tell us so. And I want to yell and stand and shout and dance, too.
I do not know my daughter very well. Fairly well, yes, but very is a stretch. I mean I know her, in the way a teacher knows his favorite student, if said student did not know any words but “ga-ga,” occasionally pooped on his or herself, couldn’t walk, and laughs whenever you make a “nom nom” sound with your mouth. I do not know her dreams, her wishes; she is not at the age of prom fittings. She can barely hold a spoon without dropping the $1.49 bottle of bananas and mangoes on herself. I count the decimals more because of her. My daughter, Lilah, she moves plenty when she is asleep. I don’t know the contents of those things being captured in her REM.
I would be so disappointed if she went through a sex change and chose the name “Larry.” Like, I want better for my child. I like Lionel. She could do Lionel
So, I cannot say for certainty if my daughter likes boys or girls. I know she likes xylophone notes smashed against her little fingers, or when her daddy beats the container holding her toy shapes, with both palms, and sings singy songs to her that he makes up randomly. But, I do not know if she will lean more towards her Dominicana roots, those beautiful things, or her Blackness (or she’ll recognize that, outside of the language, they are both one in the same on the scale of Africana and the diaspora her flesh is made from. That’s our hope, as her parentals). So, I do not know that, if my daughter lives to be an age where she can date, I do not know if she will date men, or male presenters, or women, or will tell me that she has always felt like she was born in the wrong body; if she will tape her breasts down or want to marry the all-star boy on the basketball team (please don’t, Lilah). So, I do not know if my daughter will or will not be at a gay club one day, a popular one (there are plenty in New York), and I do not know if I would have hugged her or kissed her or Skyped or Facetimed or VR’d (virtual reality is real, ya’ll), or used whatever method of technology that would be required to speak to my child, before she went to that club.
That club could also be a mosque, or a church, a synagogue, a train station, a camp, or even her college campus. My daughter could go to this club, and may only leave this club in a bag. I will let her leave the comfort of my arms, and let walk outside into a world that may hate her skin, or hair, or her beliefs; a world that may hate her gender, or sexuality. The hate may spread to her religion, or lack thereof. A man may murder her after refusing to have sex with her, and be acquitted. Or, may rape her while she is unconscious. I cannot protect my child from this world, and that makes me angry, and sad.
I cannot claim to be the voice of a certain segment of the population. I do not have answers. I have art. I have words and thoughts and ideas and poems stuffed inside my belt loops. I do have love, however. And love, I shall. I have chosen to love my daughter, whether she wants to no longer be named Lilah, but instead “Larry” (I would be so disappointed if she went through a sex change and chose the name “Larry.” Like, I want better for my child. I like Lionel. She could do Lionel). My child may decide to be an atheist, or not go to college, or got college and leave.
I cannot protect my child from this world, and that makes me angry, and sad.
She can backpack through Europe for 6 months, volunteer at the Peace Corps, eat all the cereal in the house, marry a man or a woman, or neither. I will defend her choices, right or wrong, because right or wrong does not exist in my world for her. What Orlando has taught me, and what events like Orlando continue to teach me, is that we will always have individuals who hide behind hateful rhetoric. This world will always have people who will hate someone else because of their race (a political construct if there ever was one), their sex (really?), political affiliation … the litany of issues that we as a society choose to cling to, the divisive spirits of a certain segment of the population that would rather see our society burn, rather than working on resolving our differences with love, have always existed and will always exist.
I do not know what I can do, I do not know if I am only writing to those who already feel and want the same things that I want and wish for the people inhabiting this earth, the things I want and will forever want for my little person — love, light, peace, understanding, and compassion for others who are different.
The other day I put my hand on an oak tree and asked my daughter to do the same, and she watched my hand and replicated my movements. I asked her to do so because, when she was still in her mama’s womb, I would place my palms on oak trees and pray for her diligently. These children of ours, the ones that we raise and nurture and love, are so ready to feed whatever will nourish their spirits. Hate is taught. Hate is learned. At least 50 people lost a son or daughter, or brother or cousin or best friend or partner.
I want to know their names. I want them to be remembered. I want Lilah to be able to walk into any gay or “straight” (the fact that we gotta classify shit annoys me, but whatevs) club, and not feel ashamed of the love she feels for her people, whether she considers her people to be Black or West Indian or Dominican or Queer or Republican. I also want her to know that all people are her people. I don’t know if that kind of love, or that these mere words could ever stop the beginnings of an Orlando, but I’ll keep trying.
Joel Leon is an actor, writer, rapper, father, and story-teller. You can follow him on Twitter (@JoelakaMaG).