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An open letter to my black 2nd-grade daughter following the controversial 2018 U.S. Open Final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.
When you came downstairs Saturday afternoon to see two women of color playing tennis on our television, it was by design. I wanted you to witness #BlackGirlMagic displayed on a grand stage. You’re perceptive. You recognized the significance of the moment without me having to draw it to your attention.
It’s unfortunate that previous plans kept us from watching the match to completion. Thankfully, we live in an age of technology that allows us replays on demand and at our convenience. You need to see what played out so that you understand the script by which black women are treated in our country, as well as the blueprint for how you should respond when society attempts to typecast your role in this American tragedy.
As a black woman in America, achieving the dream isn’t enough to earn respect. Women who look like you have worked their way up from vulnerable socioeconomic positions by grinding through myriad social barriers. They’ve reached the apex of their professions only to find that pulling themselves up by their bootstraps has left them exposed to the whims of white male fragility.
When black women in America push back, they are often perceived as threatening. They aren’t allowed righteous indignation. Even if they speak with a controlled passion, their assigned role in the script as “Angry Black Woman” will keep others from hearing the content of their words or recognizing the restraint and dignity with which they carry themselves. In Serena’s case, the focus of her critique on the one who had treated her unjustly was recast as a lack of control and a search for a scapegoat.
As a black woman in America, you can treat your opponent graciously and still get labeled a bad sport. You will be expected to forget all of the misogynoir you’ve experienced up to that point in life and simply shrug off every next incident as an honest mistake. The only response the public will accept from you is, “yes, sir.”
Those are some of the challenges you will face as a black woman in America. But I want you to know down to your very bones that I believe in you. I love you. As I see who you are now with your talents and strengths and a strong desire for fairness, I dream of who you will be when you grow up.
Each generation of black women in this country has paved the way for the next to push America to keep its promises. They’ve had to fight for themselves, knowing they would need to pass the baton to others so the dream could inch closer to full realization.
At the end of the U.S. Open, Serena Williams delivered two messages that I want you to hear clearly and memorize for when you may need to use them in the future:
1. I am a dignified and powerful black woman who has been treated unfairly.
2. How I was treated should not keep us from celebrating the accomplishments of the next dignified and powerful woman.
You will achieve great things, sweet girl. Watch the black women in America who are doing great things today, and get ready to light up the world when it’s your time to shine.
Christian Dashiell is a father of four living in rural Kansas. He is passionate about justice issues and decompresses by telling jokes and honing his BBQ Jedi skills.