When my youngest baby brother was born, I can’t tell you how elated I was. I was nearly 11 years old, so the age difference is significant, but I honestly think it made us closer. I took care of him and I loved every second of it. I held him all the time; I wanted just to keep him close as often as I could. I kissed him and rocked him. I changed his diapers and fed him. I sat with him and made faces and sang songs. He was, and is, such a joy in my life.
More than anything in this entire world, I wanted to protect him. I wanted to keep him safe. I’m the oldest of five, so I can’t really help it; I’m this way with all of my siblings. But for two of my siblings, the world is a little bit different. They have more melanin than I do… and for that one seemingly small difference, the world is not the same for them as it is for me.
As my youngest and my oldest baby brothers have grown up, I have found myself fearing for them in a way that I don’t have to with my white siblings.
I have never had to send a text to my white brother or sister that says anything like this:
To know that they are at risk every single day breaks my heart. When I held them in my arms when we were small, I never imagined that our worlds would be this different. I never imagined that they would be in danger the way that they are. I was naive and I have privilege and so I didn’t start to feel it until we were all a little older. But their reality is not mine and I will never feel like I can do enough to protect them.
I sometimes wish they could have stayed small so that I could shield them from all of the bullshit in this world. Now, with one nearing 6 ft tall and the other well over that, I realize that the best thing I can do for them is to use my privilege to fight against the oppression and systemic racism they face every day. It is the second strongest tool I have in my arsenal and, when paired with my voice, it makes me feel like a serious force.
As we have gotten older, my brothers have become men. My youngest baby brother is wise well beyond his years. He is gentle, but firm and informed. He does not need volume or shock value. He commands attention with his ability to appeal to people regardless of their political leanings and stick to well-researched facts. He has perspective that I truly believe will help build a bridge towards the healing we so badly need in this country.
Tonight, he sent me something I would like to share with all of you. As part of a series (my oldest is next!), the two brothers I mentioned here will be sharing their stories and voices with you. We share the struggles of being mixed race, but not necessarily looking it; they, however, are looking at it from the other side of the melanin barrier.
I hope you enjoy the words of this wise and incredibly aware high school kid who happens to my babiest baby brother. He goes to school in the deep South and has faced the world as a young man of color through that lens for nearly his entire life. He is a talented cellist, a video game enthusiast, and a true dog whisperer. His perspective is important, eye-opening and incredibly valid as we all begin to challenge our role in the racial crisis of this nation. He reminds us that while there is progress in some areas of the nation, other areas are lagging. He reminds us that all things in life are both blessings and challenges. He challenges us to change the history books of the future. Enjoy :).
Many of us have the idea that we as people have reached a point at which there are very few and minor racial and social boundaries. Many would say that if they met someone that they loved, but they were a different race, they wouldn’t care. As I’m sure you know, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You see: race didn’t really mean anything to me when I was younger. The only thing it meant in, say, elementary or middle school was that some of the lighter skinned kids would get sunburn every once in a while and would stay inside during recess to play on coolmath.com, which was a good thing cause we’d all get to play on coolmath.com. Whenever we got a test or the CRCT, I’d just put mixed into the bubble and think nothing of it. Looking back at those times, however, it’s a bit worrying how many people found the idea of somebody being both black and white so odd.
Even now when someone asks, “what race are you?” or “where are you from?” they still find my answer confusing. After a while, I found out why. When was the last time you saw an interracial couple, or a black guy and a white chick making out on the subway or something? Or seeing a dark hand and a light hand together on campus? One, maybe two? In today’s culture there still is a sort of taboo about interracial couples, especially ones with black and white couples. In some parts, I’ve even heard cases of parents disowning their kids for liking someone who wasn’t their race. This not only puts strain on the couples themselves, but also their offspring. We’re considered outcasts or just flat out weird.
Being mixed has taken many things from me. I don’t really fit into any real social group at school, any relationship I might ever try to go for will be observed with very close eyes, and physically I don’t really fit in either. I have the voice of a 20 year old white guy from Vermont, with the body of a tall black guy. However, being mixed has also given me the greatest gift one could receive: perspective. People look at the world in many ways. Someone who lives in a mansion in Beverly hills will see the world differently than someone in the slums of Delhi. In my family I have people from both ends of the political spectrum. I went to a rodeo in South Carolina and then went to Berkley California to experience the joy of a lack of McDonald’s. These perspectives have taught me something over the few years I’ve been on Earth: how divided we really are.
We may have the internet, which allows us to see more of the world, but it doesn’t really change the way we act on it, does it? It is still frowned upon for someone like me to date a white girl or vice versa. Maybe I will live long enough to see these barriers lifted away and thrown into the history books that my children will read in school and laugh that we were really this stupid; or maybe my kids will fight to destroy these taboos themselves. Only time will tell.
Stay tuned! My oldest baby brother will be featured here next week.