“Not That bad” a conversation between brothers

Brothers,

I just finished reading “not that bad”, a collection of essays on “rape culture” edited by roxane gay.  very heavy read.  i found it on my bookshelf, a remnant of my most important relationship.  it called to me like every book i’ve read for the past three months.  i opened it not knowing/fully knowing what the pages would detail: dozens of women, hundreds of pages, thousands of words, untold hours and days and months and years of horror…mostly at the hands of men.  it was all very, very very heavy: to walk in their shoes down dark streets, down daylight streets, in office buildings, in their homes and bedrooms, at parties, with their families, followed by heckles, and grabbing hands, and strangers, and friends and lovers, and fathers.  a book filled with survivors of daily horror, yo.  like, how does one retain any semblance of sane?  

i felt a lot reading it: guilty, cruel, absent minded, naive, lucky, angry, disgusted, like a fucking hypocrite. the feeling i think i’m most ashamed about is that i’m “not as bad as the men in these pages, in these memories.” (what type of feeling is that? to be reading and visualizing these traumas and still be trying to absolve yourself from “those guys”.) i don’t know.

i pride/d myself on not being “that bad”.  not being a “creep” or “aggressive” or “forceful”.  but i am. my misogyny is more gentle but it scars: my silence and ignoring when men make comments. the way my mind undresses even if/when my eyes don’t. the mental categories i place people in.

i wonder how much “better” i am than the men in these pages.  If i will ever be “better”. yes, I have rewired so much of my brain in the last decade but can I be made new? I want it and i doubt it at the same time.  I think about the silence and the secrets. how they scar and suffocate. i think about all of the times that i put women through the betrayal. which hurts more? it seems that to be hurt by your Love cuts, maybe more than the wounds of a stranger.  

i’ve spent the better part of the last year staring into the eyes of a manmade man.  one who hid and manipulated.  one who withheld love and intimacy and vulnerability. one who hid behind his work.  (one who made all those statements past tense to feel a bit better) 

This year has been a hall of mirrors for me.  Sometimes, the image in the mirror is accurate, it shows a being deeply working to be better, to be proud of who stands before it.  other times, my face leers and snarls at me.  He says look at what you’ve done.  He says, you know you’ll do it again.  which image is true, is up to me.  i know that.  i also know that i want to be made new.  that to be “not that bad” is no where good enough for me or us or anyone else.  

– Phil

This is a great reflection brotha,

I need to reflect on this more also, but it hurts. I always say to myself that the most courageous people are the ones willing to deal with their own shit. Looking yourself in the face and seeing how ugly you have been or are is tough. In that recent interview with Mike Tyson and Boosie. Mike talked about his demons and how he hates the man that he is, but he has made peace with it. Mike is an example of a Man, becoming human. Most times as men we deny our humanity, we either think we are gods that should dominate the people around us or we think we are something like a fallen god that just needs to make his way back to Olympus. The former is inconsiderate and condescending and the latter is just an angry man that hurts those around him by blaming them for his fall. Never are we just humans. That we are good sometimes, terrible sometimes, and everything in between, just like everybody else. I wanna be human. I am ready to put down this burden. 

Unfortunately though, I have found myself since the divorce feeling less compassionate towards gender/lgbtq issues. My principles have not allowed me to act on my petty feelings. But I have noticed me snapping back in my mind a lot around this stuff. I’ve been trying to find the space to get back to alignment. Therapy is helping. Processing my feelings and allowing myself to work through them is helping. I just need time to heal. 

I remember I went through a stage where I was hyper aware of misogyny. Everyday I was looking for a new book to read on it or a new bell hooks YouTube video to watch. During this time when I was on my discovery to figure this out I had a friend who was murdered by her boyfriend. Shot in the face and stomach while pregnant because she was trying to leave him. This sent me down a hole. I started calling men trash and being non-tolerant of our actions as men. I see now I was both grieving and trying to find a way to do better. During this period I also reached out to women I hurt in the past to apologize for my fuckery. That period taught me so much about the horrors of how men can show up. How the simple things like getting out the car at night is a whole process for some women because they don’t want to get robbed. Shit we don’t have to think about.

I also found out a couple years ago that my mother was sexually assaulted in the neighborhood I am from while on a morning jog back when I was a kid. After conversations with her I surmise this was part of the reason she left my father and moved away from us. She said she didn’t receive the support she needed from him and her community throughout it. They even told her to be quiet about it. She was outraged and traumatized, and rightfully so.

But I say this to say my life has been turned upside down by patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture. But I’m trying to figure out the line between being a very strong ally and also holding a politic that seeks truth and roots out liberalism. 

I pray I find it brotha. I pray I can have better discretion with women. I pray my heart heals correctly. I pray for black men that we transform.

It’s late. I’m rambling. I love y’all. If there’s an answer to this shit. I have full confidence this organization can figure it out and put it in motion. I see salvation in you brothers. 

Goodnight kin folk. 

I need to reflect on this more also, but it hurts. I always say to myself that the most courageous people are the ones willing to deal with their own shit. Looking yourself in the face and seeing how ugly you have been or are is tough. In that recent interview with Mike Tyson and Boosie. Mike talked about his demons and how he hates the man that he is, but he has made peace with it. Mike is an example of a Man, becoming human. Most times as men we deny our humanity, we either think we are gods that should dominate the people around us or we think we are something like a fallen god that just needs to make his way back to Olympus. The former is inconsiderate and condescending and the latter is just an angry man that hurts those around him by blaming them for his fall. Never are we just humans. That we are good sometimes, terrible sometimes, and everything in between, just like everybody else. I wanna be human. I am ready to put down this burden. 

Unfortunately though, I have found myself since the divorce feeling less compassionate towards gender/lgbtq issues. My principles have not allowed me to act on my petty feelings. But I have noticed me snapping back in my mind a lot around this stuff. I’ve been trying to find the space to get back to alignment. Therapy is helping. Processing my feelings and allowing myself to work through them is helping. I just need time to heal. 

I remember I went through a stage where I was hyper aware of misogyny. Everyday I was looking for a new book to read on it or a new bell hooks YouTube video to watch. During this time when I was on my discovery to figure this out I had a friend who was murdered by her boyfriend. Shot in the face and stomach while pregnant because she was trying to leave him. This sent me down a hole. I started calling men trash and being non-tolerant of our actions as men. I see now I was both grieving and trying to find a way to do better. During this period I also reached out to women I hurt in the past to apologize for my fuckery. That period taught me so much about the horrors of how men can show up. How the simple things like getting out the car at night is a whole process for some women because they don’t want to get robbed. Shit we don’t have to think about.

I also found out a couple years ago that my mother was sexually assaulted in the neighborhood I am from while on a morning jog back when I was a kid. After conversations with her I surmise this was part of the reason she left my father and moved away from us. She said she didn’t receive the support she needed from him and her community throughout it. They even told her to be quiet about it. She was outraged and traumatized, and rightfully so.

But I say this to say my life has been turned upside down by patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture. But I’m trying to figure out the line between being a very strong ally and also holding a politic that seeks truth and roots out liberalism. 

I pray I find it brotha. I pray I can have better discretion with women. I pray my heart heals correctly. I pray for black men that we transform.

It’s late. I’m rambling. I love y’all. If there’s an answer to this shit. I have full confidence this organization can figure it out and put it in motion. I see salvation in you brothers. 

Goodnight kin folk. 

– Asa

Good morning,

Reading this and trying to find out where I am in it.  A few nights ago I watched Malcolm and Marie and it was so stressful.  You can’t leave the film without thinking that they both have some serious issues and that their relationship is toxic as fuck, because it is.  I spent most of the movie trying to identify with them and feel like one of them was more right than the other.

I would identify with Malcolm and feel where he’s coming from at times, but then he would just become this vile, foul-mouthed monster that was completely out of pocket. Saying things intentionally to tear his girl down for the sake of winning an argument. That left me with a bit of a feeling that I’m better than him, but the truth is that there’s something just as bad (I don’t think it’s AS bad if I’m being honest) about gaslighting and avoiding the conflict that’s present in the relationship. Sometimes it feels like your girl just wants you to be angry and fight back to show that you care — right or wrong, and that was never my thing. I would always ignore issues or push them out of my brain and feel like it’s all good as long as the daily function of our life is maintained. In my mind, because I wasn’t aggressive about my perspective, yelling, hitting or constantly engaged in arguing, I was being a “good guy.”

In the last year of therapy, the “good guy” has been a consistent theme of conversations.  The part of my mind that is hyper aware of how things look, the part that avoids conflict at all costs (all arguments are bad), the part that is more concerned with the present moment than the true feelings that surround it – the part that didn’t really care if I was actually happy at the end of the day — just if I looked happy.  Fuck the “good guy”

Now I’m coparenting and working to navigate how to do that well.  How do you have a good relationship with the mother of your child and your ex, show up as a great father, date, and navigate every other part of your life. Shit is taxing, most of the time. There are always new challenges. Honestly I don’t have the capacity to be evasive anymore and the practice of just being honest and facing the tension head on, I’ve learned, works better than postponing the shit for later.

Some days I just want my peace though …

– Steve

brothers – 

your reflections, honest and heartfelt, call me to the task. the work of looking in mirrors, of examining our thoughts and (in)actions, and speaking, sharing what we see with other brothers is important work; it’s the critical task at hand. there’s an ideal-image i hold myself to be — crafted over many years from uncles who told me i had a good head on my shoulder, aunties who named me a gentleman, siblings who leaned on me, and, without a doubt, many, many women, lovers and friends and sometimes strangers, who loved me into a better me. often, with a fierce and reflexive defensiveness i guard and protect this ideal-image because this, i believe, is what makes me different. the mirror, for me, opens up and reveals how one-dimensional, flat and without edges, our ideals can be. 

in my mirror, there isn’t one “me” looking back at me. there is the child me — equal parts afraid and admiring — who stands aside, in the shadow. there is the objective (read: indifferent) me who, from behind or on top of  a stonewall, nods and observes, nods and observes — no less afraid or admiring. there is the proud and loud me, charismatic and kind, someone who everyone likes, waxing poetic, still afraid and admiring. in all of my mirrored-selves i see myself admiring the projection of what a man should be — and how well i can play the part — while being frightened by what men have done and knowing how well i can play the part. 

It was a loving and beautiful ex-girlfriend that convinced me to see a therapist. i’ve always, even when suggesting that friends receive counseling, remained suspicious if another can see my problems, or knowing how fucked up we all were, if another really had the answers. it was my ex who suggested that it wasn’t the work of a therapist to see all of your problems or give you all of the answers — rather, to help you see and hear the patterns we repeat, the loops we find ourselves in. that explanation was revelatory.

i continue to live out and live through many lives, rehearsing ideas and performing behaviors, that i’m not the sole author to. when not forced to the task of looking in the mirror, i continue to imagine myself, the ideal-image, as an individual, self-made and self-sustained. there’s a heavy burden, an inevitable toll, when you try to constrain every contradiction and every fantasy through one image. the image falls apart, burst at the seams. in my most vulnerable moments, this is me on the floor of my shower, sobbing and shameful, unseen and alone.

we are never really alone. we are, truly, always seen. the work, the critical task, is to acknowledge that and to open all of our imagination to the many selves with which we walk through life. the work is to nurture the space and relationships that pull us from isolation and shadow. the violence we sow and the violence we reap, as children and as men, to and with women, thrives in isolation and moves in the shadows.

during a recent men’s circle with some BMB brothers, we were talking about our values, particularly where we state, ” we must end the hurt and pain that we cause and work together to heal and transform ourselves, our families and our communities. There is no power, no victory, no hope for a better world without the partnership and leadership of Black Women.”  one of the righteous brothers, surely a good man, remarked that while he appreciated the spirit of the value, that we had to be more than apologetic; as he saw it, from within his spiritual and cultural framework, there was already an assumed understanding of the divinity of the feminine. another brother, in agreement, echoed the sentiment, feeling the story of too many good men was lost to the story of the bad amongst us. from the other side of the room, another brother simply said, ” i don’t know. i think we got a lot to apologize for.”

i don’t know. i’m committed to you all as we figure out a way, showing more of ourselves to one another. without a doubt, i’m convinced we have to mercilessly whittle through all of our assumptions, especially any that confines us to one ideal, which obscures the pain we hold, and downplays the harm we cause. i hope to be better for it.

– rc III

My Dear Brothers,

I struggle with much of the same. The last 3 years or so, I’ve been in therapy with a father-figure-like West African man who’s uncovered so much past trauma that I used to hide myself. Things like my Grandmother dying in my home from an asthma attack the morning after her and my dad (her son) had an argument about disciplining me and my twin brother. We unpacked how that led me to be conflict adverse in so many of my relationships, and how avoiding that conflict can destroy a relationship. WILD right? Sexual abuse on top of all that destroyed my childhood, and my ability to have relationships early, especialy my relationships with women. It made me afraid of asking for what I wanted, afraid of setting boundaries. 

I think sometimes as black men, we’ve learned, somewhere in this fucked up world, that we have to try to fix ourselves. That we have to find our own way. As I say this, I reflect on my dad, who was 5 years old when he witnessed his mother get raped by a white man in Alamance County, NC. I just found out about it while I was staying with them in Raleigh NC during quarantine. It answered so many questions for me as to how and why he rolled the way he did. My dad is an outwardly strong man, but like many of us, at war with his emotional self.  And for him, at least in terms of survival, it worked. He was my first example of a man, and I learned to repeat so much of what he did, a lot of that was problematic for myself. AND, as I reflect on those problematic things, I’m reminded of a meme that was shared with me last week on IG; from another dear brother Ashon Crawley I know from Durham, “so much unhappiness masquerading as critical thought, so much unkindness masquerading as critical inquiry…it’d be honest, at the very least, to say that you are brokenhearted and afraid and uncertain.  that you are unfulfilled, that you need care.”   

I too pray that I find my balance through this space this life has led me to. I’ve always been coachable.  I was coached as a musician, an athlete, and into being a “good” person.  a “respectful” person. And I wonder who I would have become if I wasn’t coached at all.  Always hearing, “Josh is such a joy to be around” or “Josh is such a nice person” had me questioning if I was really being who I was, or just who I thought people WANTED me to be.  But now at 38, I realized that who I am right now, and what I’ve been through has brought me to be the very man that I am today.  And I LOVE HIM DEARLY ya heard?! Flaws and all. And while I know I have to apologize for the women I’ve hurt, I appreciate the good parts of me. The GREAT parts of me.  I’m going to fuck up, I know, but the journey of healing I’ve been on has me excited to let my light shine brighter than ever before. And honestly, if it wasn’t for this group, I don’t think I’d be shining the way I am right now. I’m smiling ear to ear, with tears of joy welling up as I type this now…

Apply pressure at all times brothers. And keep building. Our sons, nephews, godsons, daughters, aunties, sisters, brothers, moms, dads, uncles, cousins need us. Our WHOLE communities need us. The world needs us.

If I learned one thing in the last 365, it was that you can’t be good for other people until you’re good for yourself. That takes an incredible amount of courage too…we gotta take an honest look in the mirror, spend some time alone (really alone), reflect on what you want out of your relationships (thank you Ranelle), and start the work it takes to become better everyday. 

I’m not one to lift up too many white quotes, but I’ll leave you brothers with something that has inspired me that i heard from a brother like you all, that I love dearly. He told me when he was in the boy scouts, they had a saying “leave it better than you found it.” Well dear brothers, let’s do just that. Let’s leave this world, our communities, our spaces of love, “better than we found it.”

With Revolutionary Love

JS

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