From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Sister, I’m Sorry

You really don’t know what your true potential is until you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits. You have to fail a couple of times to really find out how far you can go.

Debi Thomas

In a crowded hotel lobby in Washington, D.C., with the din of a thousand voices ringing in my ears, the revelation was born. And it was inspired, as often is the case, by a provocateur.

“So, what exactly are you sorry for, Mr. Huskisson?” the olive-skinned sister asked, referring to a video I’d helped produce called, “Sister, I’m Sorry: An Apology to Our African-American Queens.” Her whispery voice bore a playful and lyrical tone, teasing and prodding and probing all at once.

I responded the way men frequently do in such situations: I froze. It was the kind of question we brothers hate for sisters to ask—the kind to which any reaction is furiously wrong. You know, questions of the “Does my butt look big in these pants?” variety. The wrong answer could be like emotional quicksand—no way to win, no way to survive.

I hesitated, too, because I knew my answer would reveal more than I was comfortable sharing during a chance encounter with a colleague—and I didn’t care how fine she was, okay?

“I’m sorry that a lack of sensitivity and understanding has caused our relationships to suffer so,” I responded vaguely, trying to sound casual and nonchalant.

But my heart was thump-a-thump thumping double-time, and trickles of sweat were starting to form across the top of my forehead. Trying to maintain my cool—a must for any self-respecting brother—I turned to wave at a coworker and held my breath expectantly, steeling myself for uproarious laughter or neck-moving disbelief. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the sister sensation, Waiting to Exhale.

“Yeah,” the brown-eyed provocateur said finally, flatly. “I feel you.”

Freed from my anxiety and from the perils of self-disclosure, I wiped my brow, filled my lungs with air and launched a spurt of pseudo-intellectual drivel about the state of male-female relationships:

“Besides the Mars-Venus phenomenon, men and women are socialized differently, so it only stands to reason that . . . blahblahblah . . . Accepting that reality, then, we need to empathize more, fully appreciating the social conditions that . . . blahblahblahblah . . . At the end of the day, heightened awareness and better communication will help us create a paradigm shift, so to say, that will blahblahblah. . . .”

I felt pretty good about this avoidance-behavior response until late that night when, in the darkness of my hotel room, something heavy pressed against my heart: the strain of deceit. My sister had lobbied for a personal, visceral response, and I’d given her superficial psychobabble. Rather than be bold enough to speak my truth, I’d taken the cowardly route.

So, what was the real truth—the unabashed, unvarnished, unveiled truth? What had inspired me—heck, what had possessed me—to quit a lucrative job after some fifteen years at a big-city newspaper to help produce and promote a video of black men apologizing to black women?

Of course, I knew the answer. I’d renewed my commitment to black dignity, self-reliance, discipline and empowerment in 1995 after joining more than a million of my brothers in a spectacular march and rally outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. As I joined a chorus of strong, black voices reciting the Million Man March pledge, one line stood out for me: “I will never abuse my wife by striking her or disrespecting her, for she is the mother of my children and the producer of my future.”

Months later, when I got a chance to help create a video designed to heal male-female relationships and rebuild black families, the idea fit neatly into my rediscovered focus.

Still, that was only part of the story. I knew that my acknowledgement—my revelation—needed to come full circle. What was I sorry about—no, what was I personally sorry about? I struggled throughout the night, turning and tossing until a voice said: Answer with your heart, not with your head.

That made it so much easier . . . Relax . . . Release . . . Speak . . .

“I am sorry that my fear of intimacy made me close my heart to you, making it impossible for us to build a relationship based on unconditional trust, respect and love.

“I’m sorry that my personal ambitions and selfish interests sidelined you when you should have been attended and revered, cherished and exalted.

“I’m sorry that I was not more honest about who I was and what I wanted, forcing you to guess about how to best satisfy me, fulfill me and love me.

“I’m sorry that I was not more focused on your passions, more patient with your ways, and more gentle with your heart.

“I am sorry, in the end, that I have not listened to you enough, kissed you enough, embraced you enough, nurtured you enough, or loved you enough.

“And I’m sorry that I have not been on my J-O-B as a black man, allowing our families and communities to fall into such destructive chaos.”

That’s what I should have said in that crowded hotel lobby in Washington, D.C.—not just to the sister who asked, but somehow to every black woman within earshot.

Gregory Huskisson

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