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Man to Man: A Letter From Your Brother

by | Mar 31, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Written by I. Aaron Spriggs

I encourage you to take a breath before you read, and practice being open to what emerges.


This here is a personal reflection, to end with some suggestions. It’s Women’s History Month and I am taking the time to share with imperfection. You will read this and get an impression as to who I really am, or so you might think. You will read this and come away with some practices to serve community, and self — or maybe you will feel compelled to sink in shame. But my hope is that this letter invites self-compassion, and empathy. I’m doing my best to serve the women in my world; without telepathy. With honesty and humility. Following their guidance.

This here is for men, and depending on your associations with that gender identity, you may or may not have an affinity. People assigned male at birth, some gender queer folks, transmen included~ please read this with openness even when discomfort may come through… 


So, it is Women’s History Month, and I really do ponder: do I really do all I can, or can I go farther?

Do I do my research thoroughly, often, with care and curiosity? Or am I generally embracing chambers echoing with high velocity?

The answers to these questions and others vary from time to time. Yes, I’m rhyming. Yes I’m climbing through my own reality in a way that helps me find it. 

I ask myself.

Do I truly honor Black women, listen to, respond to, and believe in their brilliance? Or truly believe the brutality that many have experienced — by the hands of men? By the hands of this country’s institutions? Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality, and let me break it down right-quick… Basically it means that different forms of violence and privilege really do clique up based on a person’s multiple identities. White heterosexual, and cisgender men are more often than not supported by humans, cultures and institutions — because of racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism. Black women are more often than not beat down by humans, cultures, and institutions — because of racism, transphobia and sexism. Include other identities, and other isms and phobias, and you get a mix of folks hit from all sorts of directions. 

All at once. 

Kimberle Williams Crenshaw: What is Intersectional Feminism?

It is sick, and ridiculous.

Particularly for Black women, who many in the U.S. paint as fakers — and villainous. 

The term “Women” has been used throughout most of U.S. history to refer to people assigned female at birth. At first, only including women who have a Close proximity to Whiteness. 

Although, as we in the U.S. expand our understanding and perspectives of womanhood, women can be understood as any woman. This includes transwomen, and some gender queer people as well. Because women are multifaceted, and because there are some major similarities of experience, I highlight this so that you know who I’m discussing and honoring in this blog post. 

And when I speak of Black women, and women of color, these distinctions are just as important. Women who are descendents of enslaved Africans; women who have darker skin; Indigenous women; women who are not of European descent — and those who are disabled, queer, and otherwise othered — face more invisibilization, violence and oppression than other women.

And so I ask myself.

Am I really as much of an ally as I like to think that I am? Do I interrupt harmful beliefs and behaviors?

Do I work towards my own health? 

How often am I aware that the depth of my wellbeing spans outward with forceful power? In these conscious moments, I know that when I feel good, I am more likely to shower those around me with awareness, curiosity, effort and kindness. And when I am sick, or depressed, easily I move with carelessness and blindness. And shyness. 

And that is ok to some extent, I am only a man and I can only heal and grow. This is not self-harm disguised as poem and prose, merely a man writing his thoughts and heart out hoping they’ll take me home. To reality. Nobody is perfect, and to try could spin any of us into fatality. 

And more than that, these systems of oppression have seeded sickness in me. Telling me for years I gotta be in competition. Gotta be perfect. Gotta be the best. Gotta be rock solid, gotta beat my chest.

I gotta avoid accountability, I mean it’s mostly come through violence. And depending on the mistake, or harm caused… to admit that I did it might cause community avoidance. Isolation. Trepidation. Stipulations that state I will only be remembered by the harm I have caused.

And… yet.. lack of accountability turns me emotionally sick. Delusional. Feeling disconnection becomes the usual. Separation from reality. From those I love. Those I want so dearly to be near.

It can be so confusing.

So I practice.

Dammit, I practice as if my life depends on it.

I practice self-accountability, on my own terms, with community and compassion — with a remembering that hurt people hurt people — and my wellbeing springs even as tears find shirt sleeve and snot rag and friend’s shoulder. Belly and chest feels rock and open and roll and hot  coal. And release.

And I can find reality again.

I can find my wellbeing.

And I need my wellbeing. Not just for others, but for me. 

Which residually spans out to women, the cyclical nature of — We.

How We Can Take Care Of Ourselves And Eachother; For The Benefit Of All

I give thanks for the Black women (and gender queer) people who have taught me. Who teach me. To name family and friends: my mother Joilette, my sister Jessi, my grandmother Mary; Addrienne Ayers, Adrienne Wells, Onyesonwu Chatoyer, Camille Langston, Akela Jaffi, Afrita Davis, LaTasha Horton, Alexis Braly-James, Tayari Castelblanco, Kmt Ibura Maimoona Ha, Myasha Redd, Bre DePriest, Mahma Jaguar, Mia O’conner-Smith, Maryam Imam Gabriel, and many many more. The lessons from these people and relationships, both residual and direct, heal me into a greater human. 

To name authors: bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, and adrienne maree brown are intelligent, inclusive, and deeply heart-centered, which pull me right into their narratives and wisdoms. They offer me understanding and compel me to move deeper into the now, into the realities of liberation and oppression. These wisdom-workers open up histories, possibilities, instructions, and deliver direct contact with the nature of love and change.

I give thanks for the women who have grown and pushed humans out of their bodies, as all of my favorite people in this world were birthed. I give thanks for the women who have not and will not birth a child; their womanhood IS. I give thanks for the women who are resilient in their queerness, and exemplify expansion. I give thanks for the women who catalyze and operationalize positive change in families, and this world. And I give deep thanks and honoring for Black women whose creativity and brilliance is undeniable. I give thanks for the women from whom I have learned.

It is because of these women that I am capable of offering these practices. Practices that have served me and others in our efforts to show up for the women in our lives.

Practices for you and me… This is an invitation into process — first in list form, then further explained:

Practice Reflection | With Other Men

Practice Self-Compassion

Practice Emotionally Releasing

Practice Compassionate Self-Led Accountability

Listen To Black Women & Uplift Their Voices

Do Your Own Research

Practice Acting With Insight

All right… Let’s get into it.

Practice Reflection | With Other Men

When we practice reflection, we direct our thoughts with a certain intention. In reflection, we are looking at our memories, thoughts and feelings — with openness, authenticity, and trust in exploration. It is an opportunity to allow certain thoughts and beliefs and stories to arise. Some of which have been hiding. 

Take some time to journal or make art, for 10-15 minutes at first. Just write or draw or paint, or dance or play a musical instrument processing whatever is on your mind. Even if what’s on your mind is that you can’t think of anything to write, that you “aren’t an artist”, or that its difficult to start. Just start. Whatever the speaker in your mind or heart is saying, open it up in a tangible way.

Here is prompt to get started: When reading this blog post, is there anything that comes to mind for you? Anything springing up from your heart? Begin exploring and reflecting from there…

Find a friend, or group of friends, or group of strangers who you at least somewhat trust, and share how you’re feeling. Share what has been coming up for you lately that has been difficult to express, or that feels confusing. Maybe share what you are proud of, grateful for, or that you are excited about. Allow yourself the gift of freedom and trust

When we can trust in the power of reflection, and community, we uncover parts of ourselves that we’ve been needing. 

Practice Self-Compassion

Our wellness is important. The movements towards equity and justice, when engaged with clearly, are geared towards our wellness as well. Racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc. have made us all sick in one way or another. That sickness expresses itself through personal and institutionalized violence, which impacts each of us in a multitude of ways. 

From laws, cultural norms, individual actions, family and social dynamics there is pain being thrown around like viscous hot potatoes. Especially towards women. And a lot of people aren’t even aware of it. 

As men we have been taught to tough it out, and that our physical, and especially emotional & psychological pain and sickness should be swept under the rug. Because of past stories, or even current ones. 

Most of us need to first acknowledge that WE ARE IN PAIN — that pain experienced as physical illness or issues, or even anger, sadness, confusion, grief, jealousy, fear, etc,.. — and there is often no physical or social space to truly acknowledge our pain. There is often no space to feel it, and grieve it, and offer kindness and compassion for the parts of us that are in pain. 

And even further, it is important that we remember — Hurt people hurt people. When we notice that we hurt ourselves, or people around us, it’s not because we are essentially bad people. 

When we are in pain, we are more likely to hurt people. 

Though, the more we practice acknowledging our pain, and practice offering those parts of us kindness and compassion, and release, the more Well we will be. And the more Well our communities will be.

Take some time, for 5-10 minutes at first. Practice noticing those parts of you that are in pain, and where that pain is associated with certain beliefs, thoughts and memories. Practice exploring what it feels like to experience those parts of your body with a sense of softness, and kindness.

Practice noticing your body. Notice the sensations and thoughts, and the pain. For this post, think of compassion as “being with someone who is in pain — being there with a caring heart and desire to help”.

This process helps to bring relief and release to tense pain spots in the body, supporting the activation of our parasympathetic nervous systems. 

Here is a guided self-compassion exercise led by Dr. Kristin Neff that deeply impacted me years ago, and helped me to further develop my own self-compassion practice.

There are many guided meditations to help you with this. Find one that works for you, and maybe try with a friend.

Practice Emotionally Releasing

Therapy. A men’s support group. Connecting with a trusted friend. Art. Journaling. Laughing. Crying. Yelling.

Many of us have been ridiculed or worse for doing these things. I invite you now to try again. 

Feeling anger, confusion, fear, sadness, grief — these are all natural and important emotions to experience. And often, especially as men, we have turned to distractions such as sports, sex, drugs, alcohol, and other activities that take us out of these thoughts and emotions that are difficult to feel. Understandably so. But the toll is enormous. And the benefits of release are just as big. 

This post from the Harvard Medical School discusses how repressed emotions, and expressing emotions (through crying) affects our health.  

We are human, and feeling these feelings fully is important for our vitality. It is important that we be present with what is real to us. It is a part of our nature as earth beings to store energy in our bodies, and to release it when necessary. The way you may see another animal shake itself off after a traumatic event, or when you notice a baby or young child cry and flail their body when in pain or confusion — this is a natural healing ability that our culture has falsely deemed shameful. This is a natural healing ability that all bodies carry. And we need to engage.

This pattern of keeping our emotions balled up in our bodies makes us sick. And releasing pent up physical/emotional energy enhances our wellness, and offers relief to muscles and organs and mindsets. Clarity comes from clearing.

It is important that we make intentional time to release tension. That we take time with ourselves and trusted people who have capacity to hold the space. Allow yourself to make the time. Compel yourself to make the time. Your health depends on it. Our communities depend on it.

Practice Compassionate Self-Led Accountability

Accountability is a hot word, and many people have many definitions. For this post, consider accountability as in “the ability to take account”. 

Unfortunately, “Accountability” and falsely-laid blame is most often dished out through some form of violence. Isolation, ridicule, imprisonment, physical beatings, ridicule, manipulation, death, etc. And it is difficult to commit ourselves to accountability if we believe we will also be committing ourselves to receiving violence.

Though, when we practice our ability to take account for who we are, the ways we’ve helped others, and the ways we’ve hurt others, we can develop a more clear picture of who we really are.

When we reflect and take accountability, with compassion and intention, we can look at a harm we’ve caused and trace it back to a harm that was done to us; or some sort of pain, grief or confusion. And most often there is some need that we were trying to get met when we caused harm to ourselves or another, and we just went about getting that need met in a way that caused pain.

Pain, grief and confusion, as well as our needs, are important to identify, acknowledge and feel — with caring attention. This process allows us the space to develop compassion for ourselves, which helps us to be more well, and develop healthier patterns of thinking and acting.

The self-compassion also allows space for us to engage in restorative processes with openness, curiosity, accountability, and a desire to repair harm.

Here is the link to a Compassionate Self-Led Accountability Process (CSAP) that friends/colleagues of mine and I have developed and practiced over the last few years. 

Listen To Black Women & Uplift Their Voices

As anything else, this is a practice. A most important practice. The next time you engage with a Black woman, or their experience, practice quieting your assumptions. Acknowledging the assumptions, and naming them as such. 

Practice listening quietly, not interrupting. Practice being curious. Practice acknowledging their humanity and experience, and asking questions where you are naturally curious — honoring their responses as valid. Practice acknowledging their intelligence.

Practice sharing their voices and ideas, and giving them credit — as necessary contributions to collective liberation.

Listening to Black Women, with care and curiosity, and trust in their intelligence and goodness — this benefits everybody. 

If you do nothing else today, watch this video by bell hooks speaking on White supremacy, patriarchy and social class.

Do Your Own Research

While it is important for us to listen to Black women, and other women who are othered, it is just as important for us to do our own research. We cannot rely on the Black women in our communities & families to do the difficult labor of intentionally teaching. They have been doing so much labor for so long. Often being forced. Often working for free. And we have the internet, books, and paid facilitators/teachers now.

Is there an issue in your community, family, the country, or the world that you are feeling confused or upset about? Do some google searches. Look for information that makes you slightly uncomfortable. This will mean it’s new information, and not falling into confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is basically the phenomenon where we more easily notice and believe evidence that supports an already held belief. 

This is partly why when viewing social media, and even google searches, we must read with discernment. And search out new information. It is important to remember that the internet algorithms may first point you to perspectives and internet sources that don’t give you new information.

Take some time soon to do your own learning. You can literally just google “Black feminist theory” and go exploring. Surely you will find information or perspectives that you don’t agree with, or that make you uncomfortable ~ keep reading. There are some brilliant and world-opening works out there that could potentially change your life. Make you feel more whole. Make you feel more like a man. To be our fullest and favorite selves we must engage both feminine and masculine energy and everything inbetween. 

Practice Acting With Insight

With practicing all of the above, there will come a greater insight into the nature of self and community. And with new insight comes new responsibility. Think of responsability as “the ability to respond”. When we learn new information, come to revelations, understand things more fully — we can then tap into a new ability to respond, because we have new information.

When we learn more, we can move differently. And it is important that us men commit ourselves to this. That we commit ourselves to our wellness, and the wellness of the people around us. And that we commit ourselves to honoring the most vulnerable among us: Black Women.

Ultimately, it is our responsability to act. Not always, as sometimes being in reflection and listening are the most important actions we can take. Though when we act with insight and care ~ for others, and ourselves ~ we help to shape this world into a more compassionate place. Into a more liberated place. 

For all of our sakes, let us act ~ together.

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