Back in 2012, I wrote a Dear John letter to the brothers. My relationships with the Johns in my life were (and will always be I suppose) evolving, transitioning, ending. I’m a stubborn one, but my ideas and opinions evolve, transition, end too. So it is with the Dear John letter.
I realized the change when I was challenged to write a letter to “our” sons. The closest I have to sons are nephews and students, but I thought about them. They are (or will be) somebody’s John. They are the brothers. Would I say the same things to them?
Maybe some of the same things. But I still wrote this new letter because all things considered even the Johns I was writing off then weren’t men I didn’t or couldn’t love. Like I do my nephews or students. Love is allowed to be complicated, y’know?
Well, enough with the preamble. Here’s what I wrote:
I loved you before I knew loving you is what I was doing. I was probably in 7th grade, crushing on one or many, the first time I felt real tears for a Blackboy. Probably one I didn’t know and never would according to the evening news. My best friend chided my grief because she didn’t believe we were connected and besides, there would be more of you to meet at the mall, on a college tour, as an intern. She was right about the last part. I met more of you: sensitive and curious; funny and fine; ambitious and carefree. A few of you did end up on the evening news. And I loved y’all madly until my friend called me mad! She questioned my loyalty. Challenged me to remember a time when my loyalty had been returned. I couldn’t.
Blackboy, I stayed hopeful and kept showing up for you. When challenged, on the page, whenever and wherever. Sure, I usually had to call you twice; sometimes, three times, and there was never a guarantee that you’d show up even then, but I could show up for myself. My dad had taught me that. I don’t want my girls to ever have to rely on a man for anything he’d said and would’ve broken his neck to ensure that my sisters and I were capable of independence.
The first Blackboy I loved so fiercely had been him—my dad—strong and vulnerable; funny and ambitious; deeply wounded and sometimes wounding by his South—Vietnam and Virginia. I believed every Blackboy had a South and took responsibility for healing him from it. I didn’t realize that is never what you wanted or needed from me. In doing it, I fetishized a sympathetic villain of you, Blackboy. In my mind, it was why I was loyal and why you were not.
I want to apologize for that.
I loved you with verve, but by default. I loved you out of pity and fear. You don’t deserve that. If there are conditions to the love you receive, it should be at the very least empathy not sympathy. You deserve love that’s not borne of pity or fear of what danger lays in wait for a Blackboy caught up in his South. Heck maybe, just maybe, your South is small and barely consequential and here I drew it in the cinematic exaggeration of a D.W. Griffith production.In doing that, I reduce you. I reduced you when I thought I was making room for your expansion; kept telling you that I would hold you to the standard of your countless possibilities. That I knew you could be better and wouldn’t settle for letting you believe okay was good enough. But what if my okay and your okay were not the same? I hadn’t considered that. Hadn’t considered that we were probably both doing our best in our South.
I want you to know it wasn’t a god-complex that drove me. Believe me, it really was love. But it was fearful love like a black mother has for her black child. Love that drives her to whip you to save you from the whippings that she anticipates your South, also called in our circles The World will be ever so grateful to give if she doesn’t. She’ll tell you she knows the ways of The World in ways you may not have yet noticed and knows how dangerous those ways are to children who wear skin like yours. But in the end, I think, you would still be wounded by her love or The World’s hate. I never want to be guilty of wounding you.
It seems I loved you like that though and I’m sorry for the wounds I inflicted. I’m sorry for perceiving you through the cataracted lens of The World that perpetually diminishes you to a stereotype; for diminishing with my fancied and fearful imaginings; for relegating you to that small South as if you cannot travel beyond it. You can. You do. You will. And you don’t necessarily need me to motivate you to by challenging you to. Probably, I needed you to need me. But truth is I’d rather you be as capable of independence as my dad groomed my sisters and me to be.
Truth is while I was loving you out of pity for every outcome that was staticized about what becomes of Blackboys in the real and imagined Souths, I was damning you to those outcomes with my brand of love. And I got it wrong. So wrong. I want you to know your South doesn’t have to be; shouldn’t be where you live or the point of departure for any love you give or receive.
Blackboy, you are wanted and loved madly; The World will want to commodify you and discard of you what they can’t; those who love you may destroy you by trying to protect you from that violence. Sorry to say you will have to deal with both. You will learn to use the demand for you to expand: walk a little taller, dream a little bigger, be a little more. Yet, you will know that it is not a point of departure for any love you give or receive.