My brother is my best friend. When I tell people that, they think I’m lying. Or drunk. Or just really lonely. Whilst the latter two may be minimal factors, the statement is nonetheless true. We’ve gone from tearing each other’s hair out to holding each other’s hair back when one of us has gone a little overboard with the tequila.
That’s not even the biggest lie that people think I tell, for nothing can beat the confusion, amazement and awkwardness that spread across strangers’ faces when I tell them that my brother, is in fact, my brother.
That was not intended to be dramatic, but I shall give you a moment to pause whilst the soap opera theme tune of your choice plays in your head.
“No way! He’s your brother?” and “I would never have guessed,” or my personal favourite, “you’re brother and sister? That’s so sweet!” are just some of the responses I’ve received since my brother started working the same job as me, but it’s nothing new to the kind of responses and curious side-glances my brother and I have gotten regularly all our lives.
You’d know what all the fuss is about if you looked at us if your mind did not let you go search deeper than the colour of our skin. My brother is the palest shade of olive, so pale he could even pass for white, depending on the season. I, on the other hand, am of a milky brown complexion, resembling your favourite latte, so my foundation tells me.
I’m not an idiot, I get why people are curious. Playing the race game is made particularly more enjoyable when two people who claim they are related are very visibly not. But spare a thought for the discoloured pieces on your chessboard. It’s nauseating having to stand there and smile accordingly whilst complete strangers question my heritage, question the legitimacy of my relationship with the brother I grew up with, assume a family secret for which they have no evidence but the difference in the colour of our skin. Unsurprisingly, in this scenario, I am the controversial product of the fleeting love affair my mother had with a black man who abandoned her, whilst my brother is the golden child of my mother and her new dashing white knight, who restored the family to its traditional order. The story changes sometimes but the foundations of its prejudice are always the same.
The truth is that my parents had three kids, all of whom have different skin tones, and ‘race,’ despite how much I bang on about it, has never played a part in defining what ‘family’ means to us. Maybe you look at my brother and I and you see a symbol of racial progress, of ‘look-how-far-we’ve-come-from-the-days-of-beating-up-black-men-if-they-even-looked-at-a-white-woman.’ That’s great if that’s colourless world you’ve built yourself, but please don’t use my family as a symbol to accredit your liberalism. Everyone has the right to be curious and should be encouraged to ask questions and challenge what’s right in front of them, it is, for want of a less commonly excusatory phrase, human nature.
Maybe it would help if I told you what I don’t need from you. I don’t need your congratulations, your pity or your approval. I don’t even care if you believe me or not or are just pretending to, but if I tell you who my brother is, do not correct me.