To the four greatest girls in the world,
I need to talk to you about something that’s been weighing on me for the past few weeks. It’s a tough conversation, because it’s a subject that you don’t even understand in your hearts yet.
I need to talk to you about hatred.
But first, daddy’s gotta remind you how much he loves you. Every day, he’s gotta do that, right? Well, for the record, on this day, June 19, 2020, this is what he loves about you.
Aria, you’re five, and I love how you’re always looking out for your sisters, and how you’re always on them quick when they’re not doing their chores, or cleaning up their rooms. You’re my No. 1 helper. Nobody’s leaving dirty plates around! You’re so smart, and so caring and you definitely speak your mind. Don’t ever change.
Avianna, you’re almost four, and I love to remember that time we went to Chuck E. Cheese and you were scared to death of the mechanical homies up on stage. You’re so strong and so independent that by the time you read this, I’m sure you’re gonna be saying, “What? I wasn’t scared! Daddy’s lying! He’s crazy!”
Aliyah, you’re two, and I love that you’ve got me wrapped around your little finger already. You’re always asking me to hold you all the time. No, not even asking. Demanding. “Da-daaaaaaaaa!” But when it comes to your older sisters? NO FEAR. You’re not backing down from an-y-body. That’s why you’re “lil mamma.”
Amaris, you’re just seven months, and what I love about you is when mommy’s holding you, and you turn your head and reach out to me like, “Nah, I want Daddy!”
I love that you girls made Daddy dress up as the lumberjack dude from Frozen for Halloween and walk around the neighborhood in green tights.
I love that when we used to fly somewhere, you wanted your Elsa and Anna dolls to have their own seats.
I love that you want me to paint your nails.
I love that you still want to talk to me all day, every day.
But I know that might not always be the case. When you grow up, you might not want to hear my stories anymore. So I’m writing this for you now, during a really important time in the history of America.
It’s a terrifying time to be a black father, if I’m being honest.
Because for all the love that exists in this world, the truth is that there’s still a whole lot of hate, too.
A whole lot.
Right now, I’m trying to protect you from it. I can’t tell you about the names George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner. I can’t explain what happened to them in a way that you’ll understand. But someday, probably someday soon, you’re going to see a video of a police officer kneeling on a helpless man’s neck for nine minutes, and that man crying out for his mother, and it’s going to change the way you view the world.
I know how you girls are. I know your hearts. So I know that you’re not going to be able to handle watching this. It’ll make you sick to your stomach.
Even right now, your daddy can’t handle it.
Hate exists in this world, and it’s supposed to be my job to protect you from it. It’s all I think about. I can’t sleep at night because I’m thinking of how to protect you from something that you can’t even see.
Someday soon, you’re going to see a video of a police officer kneeling on a helpless man’s neck for nine minutes, and that man crying out for his mother, and it’s going to change the way you view the world.
In the movies, we know who the bad guys are, right? We know who we don’t like. What’s the dude’s name from Frozen 2?
King Runeard. Evildoer!
The first time we watched that movie, we knew.
The 600th time we watched that movie, we knew.
That’s an evildoing king if we ever saw one, right?
But in real life, things aren’t as clear cut. That’s what’s keeping Daddy up at night. And that’s why you girls need to be smart, and strong, and stick together no matter what. As black women growing up in America, you are going to face things that nobody else has to face. You’re going to face discrimination. You’re going to meet people who don’t like you because of the color of your skin. I wish I could say that it’s going to change by the time you’re young women, but I can’t.
The history of racism and segregation in this country is not something from way, way back in the day. It’s not some old story that grandma has to tell you. It’s something your aunties lived through. It’s something your daddy lived through.
Your daddy went to one of the last high schools in Oklahoma to desegregate. If your daddy saw another black kid in his school, or even just walking around his town, there was a 100% chance we were related. Daddy didn’t even have to think twice. It was always his cousins.
So daddy had to learn some hard lessons.
Daddy had to act a certain way, all the time.
Daddy had to be perfect.
Because if Daddy wasn’t perfect? A lot of people were just waiting for him to fail.
Now, honestly, you girls are going to live a different life. It’s not the same as when I was growing up. Even in Bixby, Oklahoma, there are a lot more black and Hispanic kids now. The world has changed a little bit, at least on the outside. But there’s so much underneath the surface that hasn’t changed at all.
All it takes is two words to know that it hasn’t changed: George Floyd.
Or Trayvon Martin.
Or Eric Garner.
Or Breonna Taylor.
And you know that Daddy will never lie to you, right? So if I’m being really honest with you, I don’t know how to protect you from this world. That’s why I’m writing you this letter.
When you read it, I want you to remember what else was going on back in 2020. Remember when people were getting sick, and we all had to stay inside? As scary as it was, it was also kind of fun, right? Daddy was home and we were all together, watching movies? And when Daddy was playing his video games in his room, what did Aria do?
She charged Daddy up!
“Daddy, stop playing your video game! Come in here and watch the movie with us! Right now!!!”
Remember all that?
She took command. And when we came back from the grocery store, and somebody didn’t wash their hands for the full 40 seconds, what would Aria say?
“Did you sing the happy birthday song, Mommy? I didn’t hear it.”
And when we were outside walking, and we saw somebody who didn’t have their mask fully over their nose, what did Aria’s face look like?
“That man’s not doing it right.”
Aria was looking out for us, wasn’t she? She knew all the rules and regulations. She was researching 24/7. She didn’t want us getting sick. She was on top of it. She was smart. She was strong. She was taking care of her sisters.
She was protecting us from something we couldn’t even see, right?
Something invisible. A virus.
Racism is just another kind of virus. It’s been around since your grandma and your daddy were kids, and we still don’t have the vaccine for it yet.
What I worry about is that you might not always want to talk to your daddy like you do now. You might get sick of his stories. So what can I tell you now that will help you through your life as a black woman in America? What can I write down that might help you 10 years from now, or 30 years from now, when you might pick up this letter?
I got three simple things that you can always rely on.
One, your mind. Education, education, education. You have to always keep learning. About this country’s history. About your own family’s history. About the world, and whatever you’re passionate about. The way to overcome the odds, the way to climb up the ladder, is with what’s inside your mind.
Two, your voice. Because even if you climb to the top of that ladder, and you get inside the boardroom, you might be the only black woman sitting around that table. The world doesn’t encourage black women to have loud voices, but you have to be brave. This is where your mom can give you a lot of great advice. She knows what it’s like to be a black woman in corporate America. You have to follow her lead, and be the strong-willed and confident women that you already are. Just be a Harris girl.
Three, your heart. This one might be the hardest. Don’t forget to show love to everybody. Don’t let that go. Right now, with everything going on in this crazy world, you girls are like a little ray of sunshine for me and your mom. There’s no bad in you. It doesn’t exist. It’s all love.
Eventually, you’re going to stumble on to that video of George Floyd. You’re going to sit through those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and I can’t protect you from it. You’re going to hear that man calling out for his mother.
And I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of questions for me.
The world doesn’t encourage black women to have loud voices, but you have to be brave.
And I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of questions for me.
How could he do that to that man?
The thing is, I don’t know how to answer that right now. I’m not sure if I will have the answer later.
What I do know for sure, though, is this….
The Harris girls are smart and strong and independent.
The Harris girls make each other laugh every day.
The Harris girls look out for one another, and they show love for everybody in the world, no matter what they look like, no matter how reckless they’re being with their masks in the grocery store.
The Harris girls should never, ever change.
It’s the world that needs to change, and I know that you girls will help to change it.
Your crazy old dad