I address this letter to my brother. Not “my brother“, as an affectionate term for someone with the same skin color. Not as a “brother“, homie, friend. This love letter is to my little brother, my “Irish twin”, my crib mate, my playmate, my scapegoat, my nuisance, my teammate, my enemy, my partner, my roommate, my HERO.
Long before we were adolescents who couldn’t stand each other we were our parents’ “two under two”. Inseparable. We shared a room that after a few years you got kicked out of and no, it’s not because I tricked you into climbing up on the edge of your crib which resulted in you falling out, it’s because I was the only girl. I don’t think we ever talked about it yet, I wonder at what point you realized that we looked nothing alike. According to mom’s notes in my baby book, I knew that I looked different as early as two years old when I saw someone with skin the color of mine but said that “his hair looks like mine.” Considering that my hair was kept pretty short in a natural fro for the majority of my elementary and middle school years it was not uncommon for people to think that we were brothers rather than brother and sister. Regardless, there wasn’t much we didn’t do together in those early days. In our small community, we stayed surrounded by our family, and our friends, all of which pretty much grew up and stayed the majority of our lives. Some may say that we were in a bubble, living in a rural Pennsylvania town. If people looked at our family strangely I definitely never noticed it, did you? If you did, you never let on.
From the playpen to the prom, I got your back bro
Other than the normal brother/sister, love/hate relationship you never made it seem like you were uncomfortable having me meet your friends or your co-workers. Remember when you came down to visit me at the University of North Carolina? I took you to a club. People thought that you were my boyfriend from out of town and wouldn’t believe you were my brother. We even survived a year as roommates after college living outside of Baltimore in a predominantly Black neighborhood. With the same last name, everyone just assumed we were an interracial couple. You endured Neighborhood kids taunting you, singing “Jungle Fever”. You experienced going shopping, eating in restaurants, even running in an area where you were in the minority, often the only White person there. You have some of the best friends in the world, because like you, they never hesitated, or acted weird, or scared when they came to visit you and hung out with us.
I know we chatted about it at points over the years, how having adopted siblings of different races shaped who you are today. What does it mean to you to have a sister who is Black? How do people in your life react when they find out for the first time? Two kids who grew up in the same house in the same community with the same access to education, resources, experiences, and felt safe and secure. We left for college and went our separate directions and the bubble burst.
When strangers see us they don’t see our history, our stories, or our connection. They make assumptions all based on quick glances and their prejudices.
I call you my hero for many reasons. Mostly because you chose a life of service. As a former Marine, who served in Iraq, and a police officer for the last two decades you’ve put your life on the line to serve and protect other people. Any job that requires you to know how to handle a weapon evokes fear that you are at risk of losing your life every time you go to work. It is because of that that my heart breaks when you get lumped into a group of evil persons who do not share your same regard for public service and justice. While I may be targeted because of the color of my skin, you become a target because of the uniform that you wear. I am scared for people of color, and I’m scared for you. Those fears are not mutually exclusive.
Like me, I know you believe that #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter. You provide leadership to the members of your police department. I know you counsel them on many aspects of their roles in the community including race relations. I am proud to be your sister.
I honor you today. As you celebrate a birthday in one of the most troubling times, you were already given the most amazing gift anyone can receive. Your son. Just two days ago you became a father, and just like we know that hatred is taught so is LOVE, teach him to love, to be fair and just, as our parents taught us. Continue to be the incredible man that I call my brother. I love you. Always.