If You Should Ever Decide To Tell Our Story…. For Real This Time (An Open Letter From Spike Lee to Tyler Perry)

I guess you believe that only mad black
women keep diaries/or maybe that it’s easier to ghostwrite
someone else’s phantoms/ than it is to admit that you’re haunted/ or maybe
it’s better for a black man to wear skirts/than it is for him to constantly be accused/ of chasing
after them/ or maybe there’s no way for any of us to be both/ more of a man/and less of a threat.

I don’t think I am lost enough/ to find you/funny/
i think that laughter/is what tragedy sounds like/on an off day/
and a smile is what / trauma looks like turned inside out/ Dave Chappelle said he was
funnier than a dress/ and he still had to go all the way to Africa/ to see the
difference between being laughed with/& being laughed at/ Tyler, sometimes I wonder how far you’ll have to go /to realize/ you’ve gone too far.

I just want to hear stories about us, Tyler/ stories about black boys/
who live their lives as question marks/ because they’re scared to be exclamation points/
Black boys who talk to themselves/ because nobody else will listen/The one who cries in the dark/
because he knows his emotions will be made light of/ Black boys who proclaim themselves ready to die/ because they are unprepared to love/ the same ones who pick a casket/ before they pick a college/ A Black boy born with a chip on his shoulder/ and a foot on his neck/ whose life consists of everything but consistency/ Tyler, weren’t you a black boy once?/ Do you ever think about the colored boys who’ve/committed suicide when being themselves wasn’t enough?

I just want the truth/ the good, bad, and ugly/ that is me/ and you
and all of us/ housed in any given moment/ Never wanted the story all shiny and polished/ save the happy endings for seedy massage parlors/I prefer this flesh and bone unedited/ because there has already been too much of us left on cutting room floors/ and I refuse to spend another moment censoring my spine.

Black manhood has always been a tightrope, Tyler/ and
all I’m asking of you is balance

In the end, I am no different than you/ and you are no different from us/
offspring of invisible men/ who spend sleepless nights/ worrying about how the rest of
the world sees us/ seduced by the fact that secrets are often easier to keep/ than promises/telling black women to remain patient/ while waiting to exhale/ because our breath is the only thing some of us have ever felt/comfortable holding/but that’s only some of us/ and “some” ain’t never been “all”

Tell a me a story about us, Tyler/ a story about good black men/and when I say good/I mean
decent/when I say decent/I mean flawed/ When I say flawed/ I mean human/ When I say human
I mean he who is capable of making/excuses/mistakes/love/babies/sacrifices/and a commitment/ I mean a saint with a past/ and a sinner with a future/ I mean a man who longs to find a woman with a pair of arms/so unwilling to let him go/that they eventually set him free/ It isn’t that we are unable to love/ just terrified that love may be unable to love us back.

It really is a neat trick/ the way you make “some” look like “all”/ the way you substitute half-truths/ for the whole story/ the way you make the boogieman real for them/the way you make it look as if failing is the only thing we’ve ever been successful at/ the way you give them men to doubt/ and monsters they can believe in/ apparently, fitting all black men inside a box/is easier than thinking outside of one.

I just want to hear a story/ about us finally feeling comfortable in our own skin/about the way we find home
in our scars/ about how we are judged by how much pain we can take/ as opposed to how much love we can give/about the way hearts are more easily broken/than cycles/ about the way death often claims us/before our fathers do/about the brothas who hang on corners/and the ones who eventually turn them/ stories about how we love to be desired/and stories about how we desire to be loved/This is what’s known as balance

Black manhood has always been a tightrope,Tyler/ I just want to hear you tell a story /that shows us all/that there’s more than one way/ to walk it.

By Jamaal St. John