A Black Girl’s Pocket Guide to Life

A Black Girl’s Pocket Guide to Life

Kristie Robin Johnson


  1. There is no such thing as reproduction. You are not one-half your mighty father and one-half your dainty mother. You are no one’s carbon copy. You are an original thought, a new creation, something no human or beast has ever laid eyes upon. No, you weren’t reproduced as some will attempt to convince you. You are a unique production—a one-of-a-kind bundle of blood, skin, bone, and imagination. You were made, not re-made; created, not re-created; produced, not re-produced.


  1. You are a box breaker. You shatter glass. You chisel away stone. You smash bricks. You blast mountains from their core. Your tools are elementary but powerful in your hands. They’re always by your side: your intelligence, your wit, your cunning, your courage and ambition. And there will be a veritable sea of boxes to be broken. They have built boxes to contain (amongst other things) your hair, your music, your artistic expressions, your sexuality, your faith, your revolutionary impulses, your femininity, your masculinity, your joy, your pain, indeed, YOU. And you can never grow tired of breaking these boxes, blowing up expectations, tearing down stereotypes. You’ll find it’s part of your life’s work.


  1. Beyoncé is make-believe. She is a talented, painted lady surrounded by a team of talented, painted worshippers. She has one for each strand of her perfectly coifed hair, one for each shiny toenail, fingernail, eyelash. There’s a dutiful gal whose single job in life is to paint her lips and eyelids, keep her constantly “camera ready.” There’s a man who plans and cooks all of her meals and another who wakes her at 4AM every day with a regimen of lunges, squats, and cardio exercises. She has an assistant (probably two) who works with break-neck intensity to make sure that every appearance and performance is flawless; to make sure that the woman we see—the curves, the colors, the magic—is the envy of all women and the dripping wet desire of all men. And as lovely as it sounds, the truth is no, she did not wake up that way.


  1. Beyoncé is real. She’s made of flesh and bone, just like you. She has a mama and a daddy, just like you. She sweats when her body is exhausted, just like you. She cries real tears, just like yours. She was born with a natural tan, just like yours. She has private insecurities, just like yours. She has fears, pains, and doubts, just like yours. She possesses the capacity to push herself beyond her self-imposed limits, just like you. She possesses the capacity to imagine a world that doesn’t yet exist, just like you. She dreams electrifying technicolor dreams, just like you. Why is she special? She focuses. She fights. She believes.


  1. Just so you know, a bitch is beast who walks on all fours. She has a tail and is covered in fur from head to toe, or I should say, from muzzle to paw. A bitch comes equipped with eight nipples and usually gives birth to her young alone and outdoors. Some particularly viscous bitches have been known to eat their young. Her ancestors are canine and howl at the moon. She is primitive but loyal. Some more intelligent breeds can be trained and they make good service animals. Bitches don’t get to choose with whom they mate. More often than not they are at the mercy of the pack. Sometimes if the bitch has an owner, she is forced to mate with her own brothers or father. Every girl has to decide for herself whether or not she is a bitch.


  1. Suicide is optional. Though at times it may feel mandatory—the only escape, the only door marked “EXIT” from the interminable distance between you and your god, the world’s icy shoulder, the end of his calloused overworked and underpaid fist. Ripened blue veins glow beneath your sun-kissed wrists and pink palms, speaking temptation. You wonder if you have anything sharp enough. Scissors, several dull knives, but no razors. A box-cutter would really do the trick. For a second, a minute, maybe even longer the thought thrills you—retreat, surrender, relief. But you must resist with everything that you have left, with what you think is your last breath.


  1. You aren’t here to make money. You are not a mint pressing hunter green ink into parchment, shaping copper into coins.
  1. Money is artificial. It is a manmade device designed to assign arbitrary value to goods and services. All currency is a promise representing some perceived accumulation of items. Don’t get eaten by the promise.
  2. Money is a tool. And like most tools, it must only be a means, never an end. When the accrual of money is treated as an end, satisfaction is never achieved. When money becomes a means towards an idealized, immaterial end such as peace, sovereignty, or independence, then and only then, can money be truly gratifying.
  3. The most common color for slave chains is green. Yes, slavery was abolished in 1864, but so many of us are still bound by the very thing that our ancestors actually used to be. They were the currency, the promissory note, the very item that would be traded for horses, sugar, rum, power, and influence. Their shackles were made of iron, most often by the skillful hands of fellow slaves. And if you’re not careful, your shackles will be made of small green presidential portraits traded for purses and shoes and jewelry and esteem. Don’t get eaten (see 7a).


  1. Love is God. And God is a lady or a gentleman, whichever you prefer. God would not dare force you to do what you do not want to do. All decisions belong solely to you. The greatest gift given to human beings from the Creator is the opportunity to choose their own path.
  1. The ultimate truth is that God who is Love and Love who is God supplies. And if our Source is all-creating, all-knowing, and all-supplying, it must be insulting to pray from a space of lack or want when everything that one could ever long for is already supplied. Instead pray from a space of gratitude for what is and a space of intention for what we will manifest through God’s inevitable supplication.
  2. Love is nothing if not unconditional. If someone offers you their love with strings attached, rest assured it’s not love that they are offering. If it isn’t unconditional, it isn’t love. If it isn’t love, it isn’t God.


  1. Jesus is a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew. A rebel and a liberator. A revolutionary and a political prisoner. A seeker and a saint, both persecuted and praised. To believe in his life is to understand radical compassion, even in the face of death. To believe in his resurrection is a powerful, personal decision for which you cannot be judged.


  1. You will die. It is inevitable. Take a deep breath, say it out loud, then get over it. Don’t waste your years doing battle with the inevitable.


  1. You must live. Living is so much more than the rudimentary inhaling, exhaling, eating, sleeping, waking, pissing, shitting, and working. Living is believing in something bigger than yourself. Living sometimes means trusting in the promise of things that you can’t yet see. Living is trying and, many times, failing. Living is both loving and losing love. Living means taking risks, not always knowing where your foot will land when you lift it off the ground. Living is staying up past 2:00AM in pursuit of a dream. Living sometimes means being brave enough to be the first one to say “I love you.” Living, really living, means leaving something behind, beyond your last breath, that will make someone’s experience on this mad planet richer and worthwhile.


  1. Time heals nothing. It just buries things in a glorious deep dark dungeon called “The Past.” True healing comes with light, acceptance, and forgiveness. Shine a light on your hurt. Expose it, examine it, name it, and accept it for what it is. Then comes the hardest part, forgive the one who hurt you.


  1. Consider having kids. Alone, and with your partner. Don’t allow yourself to be brow-beaten into accepting motherhood as the end all, be all purpose of womanhood. But also, do not buy into the lie that women who are mothers cannot pursue meaningful, extraordinary existences outside of raising children. You can have the career of your choosing and have kids. You can date and love and fuck whom you please and have kids. You can enjoy this life and have kids.


  1. If you do choose to become a mother, do not resist the urge to pull your baby into your arms, close to your chest, bury your nose and lips into the fine silken tresses atop her precious crown and breath in the enchantment of youth and tell her how much she is loved. Do this every time you get the chance.
  1. If you do choose to become a parent, do resist the urge to think of your child as your possession, as something that belongs to you. Learn to look at your offspring and see an alien, a unique individual who is visiting Earth for the very first time. Understand that their life is theirs and not yours. Let them make their own mistakes. Let them bear their own crosses. Your job, as impossible as it may seem, is to stand at the foot of their Golgotha and love them unconditionally, knowing the stone will be rolled away eventually.
  2. If you do choose to become a parent, don’t hit your kids. Just don’t.


  1. Marriage is not mandatory, nor is it necessary; happiness is.


  1. When you have the chance, spend an entire day getting lost in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, go to the ocean alone and let your wildest thoughts and the salt of the sea spray be your only companions, splurge on an original work of art, write awful lovesick poems, order from the “we fucking” side of the menu even though you know better, dive headfirst into a ball-pit well after your eighteenth birthday, raise your clinched black fist during the Star Spangled Banner, sit front row at a Mary J. Blige concert and let her serenade your sorrows until your heartache no longer knows your name, fall in love with Audre Lorde’s prose while an early evening thunderstorm cools the scorched earth, meditate, weep without shame, at least once wear your heart on your sleeve.


  1. Put on red lipstick—just once—even if you choose to become a nun; even if red isn’t your color. Pull on fishnet thigh-highs and lacy, constricting lingerie. Slip your feet into a pair of six-inch heels. Position yourself in front of your mirror. Stare impossibly long at the woman on the other side. Once you’ve resisted the urge to look away, let the stare settle into a gaze. Then, with slow deliberate strokes, wipe away the crimson lips and any other make-up you might have on your face. Unfasten the hooks on your bra. Roll your stockings back down the length of your legs, enjoying the gradual revelation of imperfect skin. Step out of your heels, down to Earth. Behold a portrait unmatched. Inhale all of her—knee scrapes, stretch marks, cellulite, the thick parts, the thin parts, the parts that you love, the parts that you’ve convinced yourself to hate. Find the sexy in this un-primped, undone woman. Revel in the canyons and valleys that are you. Praise the coffee-colored arches and shadows; the burnt brass bends and curves.


  1. Forgive. And if you can, become a quick forgive. It is hard because forgiveness requires that you split yourself open and separate yourself from the false armor of anger, malice, pride, and righteousness. Holding your oppressor’s hostage with your rage feels good, but the truth is that the forehead pressed firmly against the barrel is your own. I love Malcolm, but Martin was on to something. True freedom is rooted in forgiveness.


  1. Ask for forgiveness. Ask because you are human and you will screw up. You will sell someone short. You will hurt someone’s feelings. You will prejudge a person who doesn’t deserve your judgement. You will lie to someone that you love. You will kick someone when they are down. Many times, you’ll find that your victim will be you—selling yourself short, judging yourself too harshly, hurting yourself, lying to yourself, not giving yourself a chance to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Learning to gather the courage to make amends with others and with yourself is one of the most crucial keys to making life the golden path that it can be.


  1. You don’t have to be a feminist, but you MUST be true to yourself. Being a woman doesn’t confine you to pearls and dresses and the color pink. Nor does being a feminist mean never shaving your legs or armpits, banishing all cosmetics for life, and scowling at every Y-chromosome that you encounter. Feminism is about equity, fairness, and opportunity. No matter where you lie on the feminist spectrum—whether you’re unbelievably powerful like Shirley Chilsolm or beautifully bad like Roxane Gay—just be honest with yourself. Cutting all of your hair off down to the root to go chemical-free to meet some new standard of black beauty is just as damaging to the psyche as putting a chemical in your hair to meet a traditional white standard of beauty. Your definition of beauty is most meaningful when it’s your own. Don’t strive toward someone else’s version of perfection. Strive toward self-awareness. Get to know yourself intimately. This is the igniting spark of self-love.


  1. One more note on love…You will hear the word “love” used countless times on this journey. And while I’ve said that love is God (which I believe is true), love is also an emotion—an impossible wringing out of everything within, a merciless intoxicant in which so many of us get hopelessly lost. Many people believe, falsely, that love is something that we fall into like a handy-dandy safety net, a swimming pool, or quicksand. For lots of girls (of every color, hue, and shade), love is a wistful destination, a city named Happily Ever After. On the contrary, you’ll learn that love is a beginning, a starting point. It’s the edge of the cliff, the springboard. It’s the point from which you take the leap that changes your life. There will be times when you will leap and a gorgeous gust of wind will scoop you up and send you soaring over mountain peaks and rooftops. There will also be times when you will leap and there will be no easterly wind to save you. The earth below will become so big so fast you won’t believe that you’ll survive. But you will. You. Will.

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