Yall. I cried for Alfre Woodard dyin. I cried for Delroy Lindo as a single dad. I cried for little black girls who have to grow up too fast.
Crooklyn was a movie that I loved from the first time I saw it. Already a fan of Spike Lee’s take no prisoner style of filmmaking, his semi-autobiographical tale touched me deeper than any of his other movies. The Carmichaels, and particularly the daughter Troy, were black and utterly real to me. Of course there’s no one way to depict a black family, but on the big screen, there’s a compulsion to paint us as abnormally perfect or hopelessly dysfunctional. The Carmichaels were beautiful in their flaws. The way they loved and fought pulled me in, because that was what I knew of family. When Carolyn died, my heart squeezed. When they showed Troy stepping up to take her mother’s place as family caretaker, then my heart just burst.
Growing up, I’ve seen a million Troys. Variations of dark (or not so dark) girls on spindly legs with backpacks almost as large as they are, keeping their siblings in line; the unofficial Mama, Jr. They all have that same look: firm jaw; eyes always on guard, prepared to roll at their younger sibling’s smallest infractions; an authoritative stance, no matter how small they are. Fierce and bossy, they can run a household before they turn twelve.
I was Troy. With my mother being ill the majority of my life, I don’t remember not having an active role in running the household. I cooked my first breakfast at four, was changing diapers at six and was responsible for combing hair by the time I was eight. When I was ten, I’d already mastered the art of eye rolls and exhaustion. I know what it’s like to have tired eyes by the time you’re fifteen and a soul so weary, you can’t process that you’re about to lose your mama until she’s almost gone.
Loss and responsibility is not unique to black girls, of course. The way we must bear it, however, is disproportionately harsher than non-black girls. The world falls very squarely on far too many of our tiny shoulders. When your resources are limited, options in the way of assistance are also limited. By the time we’re women, too many of us have dealt with issues far above our pay grade, and the reaction to us is visceral and unforgiving. We’re dismissed as broken and angry, and far too few people care to examine what has actually broken or angered us.
Through no fault of our own, or anyone else’s for that matter, we learn that at any moment, we’ll have to fend for ourselves and deal. We’re forced to shout, even in moments we most desperately crave quiet. We cry in private, if at all, and move through our routine; because everyone is hungry, and dinner can’t wait. We don’t get to have fragile hearts. We need hearts capable of bench pressing. Everyone else is relying on you, including the adults in your life who consider you an extension of themselves.
There’s a certain invisibility that comes with being a Troy. An invisibility that comes with an expectation of perfection. You’re denied the tiniest amount of your childhood because you have to be the example. It’s neither wrong, nor is it fair. It’s just life. Then if you mess up (and when you think you’re more “grown” than you are, you inevitably mess up), people shake their heads and bemoan the childhood you missed. And it’s too damn sad, too damn late and happens too damn often.
Just know that you’re not invisible. I see and have love for each and every one of you. Not only your power-lifting exterior, but the fragile part of you that everyone else – including you – seems to have forgotten. No matter what your responsibilities are, you are just as sweet and lovable and worthy of protection.