Dear Malia (if she was my daughter),
I want to first let you know that I love you. This love has seen me through being puked on, sassed, taken for granted, and seen as totally uncool though I am an all-around dope person. I say this not to guilt-trip you but to let you know: your perfection has never been a prerequisite for me to love you. Even through your faults.
You are a beautiful and intelligent young woman. I have to tell you that I am disappointed that the world is seeing you in a less-than-favorable light. Your father and I have worked hard, so hard, to make life easier for you. I won’t go so far as to say our achievements were just for you and your sister. But in a sense, we have done what we can to set a foundation for you to aim higher than we ever could. Such a foundation is not indestructible. Remember that.
I am not disappointed because Malia showed a narrow behind in something skimpy and shook it on camera.
We are built like trees; I haven’t given you much to shake. You inherited my lack of rhythm, my insouciant approach to dancing when my favorite song is blasting. I hope you remain unembarrassed to claim freedom. Rather, my displeasure is that the world will take your joy and sour it. You are at your most naked not when you flip your skirt in jest, but when you are enjoying yourself without guardedness, when you show your true self to jackals.
Sometimes I think that maybe we sheltered you too much, dear daughter. Contents may burst under pressure, after all. What parent has not tiptoed the thin line between protecting their children from themselves and letting them live their own lives? I have periodically told you that we have to be two times as good to get half as far. Was it too much? I never wanted you to feel trapped, unable to stumble. Yet, I do not apologize for setting high standards for you. I have no doubt you will achieve much. Look at what you have already accomplished!
Still, I have to warn you. You can be a “normal” teenager in some respects. I am not so old that I’ve forgotten what it feels like to want to be youthful during one’s youth. But we live in a fishbowl. There is not much room for error. You could point to former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager, who was busted for underage drinking at 19, but has gone on to live a successful life as a news correspondent, wife, mother and magazine columnist.
But Malia Obama is the first Black First Daughter of the United States, not a Bush scion.
I want to say that doing something as ordinary as dancing at a concert will not haunt your future. That seems like a reasonable thing to say. I want for you the latitude that America shows young White women like Jenna Bush Hager and Karlie Hay. But there is much more grace for White women using the word “nigger” than for a Black girl they would call that same word.
It’s an unfair position to place you in. “With great power comes great responsibility.” You not only have to be better than your White counterparts–you have to be above reproach from your Black peers, as well. But that is the call to greatness. It is an unwieldy burden on Black children, but it is one I know you can handle because your father and I have done so. We have prepared you to do the same. Rise to it.
Do not let this “incident” wring the girlishness from you prematurely as you are on the precipice of womanhood, Malia. Do not let it dampen your spiritedness. But I would also counsel you to not let it spark your defiance. America’s wind will buffet you if you, my Black child, throw caution heedlessly into it. I raised you better than that.
A so-called twerk has never stopped a Black woman from handling her business. Continue to handle yours as we have taught you. Your father and I will do everything in our power to protect you from those who wish you harm. But you are an adult now. The one thing we cannot do is protect you from yourself. And again, it is unfair to ask an 18-year-old to think with the clarity of a middle-aged person. It is simply what we must do because of who we are.
Make wise choices, Malia. That is all we will ever ask in return for what we have given you. I love you, I’m still proud of you, and I know you will continue to show the world that greatness is yours by birthright.
Now don’t ever let me catch you dropping it like it’s hot in front of these White folks again!
your Black mother