“For Black Girls Like Me” by Mariama J. Lockington is a poetic coming-of-age story about a black girl adopted into a white family. The central themes of identity and race are as obvious as one could expect considering the family makeup, but a third theme of mental health carried the most weight for me. Although a primary focus was on the mother‘s mental health struggle, I couldn’t help but worry about Keda’s wellness as well and how much I related to the mental gymnastics she endured every day.
At 11 years old, Keda took on the role of caretaker whenever her dad traveled for work, which is something no child should ever have to do. His parting words were often some form of “look out for Mom” when, really, he should have been looking out for her. Keda’s teenage sister was too consumed with self to be of any real support. And her mom… well, you’ll have to read and see.
…Even at a young age, black women are groomed to bear the weight of the world…
There’s a period when Keda’s being bullied at her new school, but she didn’t feel she could talk to her family about it. She reasoned that it was best not to burden them with such trivial details. Her mom found out, and in typical white liberal fashion, hastily screamed about ignorance and racism in defense of her daughter. But she never actually listened to how Keda felt about it all. Even before the bullying, Keda withheld so much of what she was truly feeling. It felt like she would burst at any moment. Another incident took place outside of school that felt like an inevitable eruption. It resulted in Keda having to apologize after being attacked because her mom was embarrassed by Keda’s response.
Reading “For Black Girls Like Me” was a reminder that, even at a young age, black women are groomed to bear the weight of the world while taking care of others. While being beat down, we’re still expected to take the highroad. We’re expected to be strong and succeed against all odds while also submitting to whatever authority demands us to shrink. People don’t often make room for us. They barely believe us. And when we take matters into our own hands to stand up for ourselves? We’re told there’s a right and wrong way/time/place to do it. This is what I mean by mental gymnastics.
People don’t often make room for us. They barely believe us. And when we take matters into our own hands to stand up for ourselves? We’re told there’s a right and wrong way/time/place to do it.
I was around Keda’s age when I internalized how being Black made me different. My mother signed me and my sister up for Girl Scout camp to give us something to do for the summer. We were two of very few, and I was the only black girl in my age group. I remember sitting alone as we worked on arts and crafts while everyone else was embraced into the fold. I remember my first year at a white school being asked if I rode to my old black school in a bulletproof bus and how I ended up in honors classes. I felt a lot of things, judged, insulted, unwelcome, but mostly angry because I didn’t know how to defend myself at the time. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to toe the line between not reinforcing stereotypes and speaking my truth. But even now, I’m often stunned into silence at things people have the audacity to say, and days later, I’m still thinking of comebacks that I should’ve said.
When I turned the last page of “For Black Girls Like Me”, I exhaled. I didn’t even know I was holding my breath, but those final moments reading and realizing Keda was going to be fine made me feel good. By standing firm in her truth, Keda found her voice more than a decade before I ever found mine. Keda’s story was a reminder to me to stop trying to fix people, to put myself first, and to no longer avoid risks. She reminded me to do what I love wholeheartedly and without forgiveness. Keda reminded me that I should be my own hero, and the rest of the world would just have to catch up.