We hear your cries, we feel your rage, we sense your frustration and ambivalence as we mourn the scores of black men, women, and children being gunned down in the streets almost daily. We have literally had to bear witness to gut-wrenching images and videos of police officers killing black American citizens. In the past two years, since the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we have had to confront continuing state-sanctioned violence against our own. In light of our overwhelming feelings of grief, I offer you this open letter of love and understanding.
These are complicated times, where we are now seeing ourselves represented in places that did not previously allow our voices to be heard. At the same time, we’re experiencing abhorrent forms of inequality in so many areas of our lives. But, we have to continue the fight to shape our own representations.
Mass media and pop culture overshadow much of what truly happens in black communities. In our everyday lives we can point to countless examples of productive, constructive, powerful relationships between black men and women. We must make visible the abundance of love, support, and community building that is worth recognition and wild celebration.
I’ve read so many books and articles over the years about how patriarchy has contributed to popular constructions of black masculinity. I’ve learned that our understanding of “masculinity” is based on the gendered behaviors and performances of wealthy, heterosexual white men. In so many ways, black masculinity has been shaped to be the opposite of queer or feminine. Therefore, black and/or poor, and/or gay men are marginalized and seen as deviant. Even more, you are blamed for not being able to live up to being the idealized man, because of your own so-called inadequacies. Sadly, you often feel both compelled and constrained to perform masculinity within these strict bounds. You’re not often given room to live and love freely or breathe deeply.
We invite you to challenge and resist the social, political, and economic systems, as well as religious dogma that obscure our potential to work together. We invite you to rethink how you conceptualize power, strength, and masculinity. Strength does not require domination; it requires sensitivity, understanding, and a desire to construct equitable partnerships with the women you love.
Strength does not require domination; it requires sensitivity, understanding, and a desire to construct equitable partnerships with the women you love.
The tireless work of black women is often overshadowed or even erased from history. We encounter humiliation, violence, misogyny, even as we sacrifice our minds, bodies, and spirits to challenge the erasure of black boys and men from our lives at the hands of the state (e.g., violence, incarceration, isolation, addiction, etc.). We acknowledge and feel your rage, pain, and sorrow as well as your joy, ecstasy, hope, and wonder.
You should never wonder if we support and love you, but learn how we do so. Know that it is possible for us to hold you in high regard at the same time as holding you accountable. Know that our critiques speak more to our belief in your indelible strength rather than any wavering confidence.
We are not here to judge; we are looking for constructive ways to work together. We desire true partners, and want to nurture the work it takes to make you whole, just as much as we want the same from you. We are eager to offer clarity, communication, patience, and support. Please trust that we have open hearts and open ears, but we also seek open minds. This is not a lesson, dear brother, it is a reminder.
Sincerely, Brandi T. Summers, Ph.D.