Today, my niece Khalia was born. She came into our world at a healthy nine pounds, five ounces. She is my brother’s first child, and my first niece or nephew. I’m surprised by how excited I am at the prospect of being an uncle. I love kids- babies and children and even teenagers. I like talking to them because they tell you exactly what they think and feel. I like spoiling them and making them happy. I hate disciplining them, so Khalia puts me in the perfect position. I can give her all the toys and candy and attention she can handle, and when it’s time for the unpleasantness of parenting, I can let her parents be the bad cops. It’s a win-win, and I’m already imagining all of the great things me and her big cousin Gabriel are going to do for her.
Today is February 23rd, 2017. The world is vastly different from the one my brother and I were born into in the 1980’s. The sum knowledge of humanity is now available in the palm of your hands as long as you have a strong internet connection. We take this access for granted now, but take a step back for a moment. Invisible waves of energy have connected billions of people across the planet. When I was a child and asked my parents a question, sometimes the answer was, “I don’t know.” Now, my brother and I can say to our children, “I don’t know, but I can look it up.” Khalia may never need a driver’s license because cars will be driving themselves by the time she’s ready to start hanging out with her friends. The world is even different from the one my son was born into nearly a decade ago. Khalia will grow up with the right to marry anyone she chooses. The United States has already had an African American president.
Khalia is a black girl born in a country that has always treated black girls and women poorly. Black girls and women on February 23rd, 2017 face violence, sexual assault, discrimination and other persistent inequalities at rates much higher than their white counterparts. This violence often shamefully comes from us, black men, the very people who should be doing the most to protect and cherish black girls and women. Black girls and women don’t see themselves reflected in the media enough, or in the echelons of political and corporate power, or in their own community organizations and groups. Black girls and women often work the hardest for the least attention and praise, and carry the burdens of men in our community without receiving reciprocal support.
Khalia is also a black girl born in the best time to ever be a black girl in the history of the United States. That may be a sobering statement given the continuing challenges black girls and women face, but we do a disservice to those who fought for the progress we’ve made by not acknowledging it. As of February 23rd, 2017, Khalia can grow up to be a Nobel Prize laureate. She can be a senator. She can own a television network. She can be an astronaut. She can be a general. She can do things and be things that were literally impossible for black girls and women two hundred years ago, unthinkable one hundred years ago and improbable fifty years ago. Khalia will be expected to go to not only go to college, but to earn some kind of graduate degree as well. She can vote, own property, testify in court and serve in combat roles in the military. These are major strides forward, despite how ho-hum they may seem today.
History is not a straight line from point A to point B. The story of progress bounces around, retreats, and even moves in multiple directions at once. Two days ago, it looked like Khalia would be treated better if she grew to be a transgender student later in life, but that’s no longer the case. History is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow between progress and retrenchment for different worldviews. The last eight years saw the triumph of a set of ideas which are better for a baby black girl. The next four years will challenge and attempt to undo that ideology. What happens in the four years after that? As I’ve written before, there is no moral arc to the universe. It’s up to us to make sure our ideas win, to protect Khalia and all the other babies.
Today, on February 23rd, 2017, a new human entered the world. She doesn’t know anything about it, except what we show her. Let’s show her something good.