Strange thoughts go through my mind, very strange thoughts. They are thoughts about my brother. These are not normal thoughts, I say to myself, but I know my world is anything but normal. These thoughts keep coming like waves, strong tides, that are hard to hold back. Each time I had to entertain these thoughts, they send shudders down my spine and I feel helpless and motivated at the same time – an emotional rollercoaster.
These thoughts are about what could be going on in the mind of my brother. My brother looks so much like me and as a result, we are often treated the same way – we face similar prejudices and we are bundled into the same social “class”, well kind of. I may look a lot like my brother but we differ in one striking way, which I will tell you later. I know my brother very well, that is because we have the same roots. I know his story and his story is my history. But anytime I look into our documented history, what I find is “nothing”. Nothing like what we know and feel, nothing like the truth about us. What I and my brother find in books written about us are watered down versions of the truth. I can understand why, though. I think the truth of our history is so graphic that if told as it happened, it will cause the writer a lot of distress and make the devil himself will feel like a saint. So, he who documents histories decided a lighter version is fit for us. What the history writer fails to realise is that my brother and I have an amazing version of our history to tell, if only he bothered to ask. My brother and I could have written our history our self, but we were not schooled in his art of writing. So we stood by and watched as he wrote.
I have always wondered, what I would find if I was allowed a journey into the mind of my brother. So much has happened to my brother and for over so long a period that I am not sure I know my brother anymore. I am not sure he knows me now either. The thoughts that he may not recognise me drains me of every expectations and longing I have about meeting him. I still want to meet him, though – he is my blood.
Each time I embarked on the punishing journey, of trying to peep into what goes on in my brother’s mind, I have always come to one conclusion and the answer will surprise you – I found no answers. I found “nothing”. Strangely, but honest enough, my brother knows this too. I know so because he told me once that he looks inwards most times and all too often, he finds nothing as well. This scares me a lot and makes me want to cry. Is he lost?
But we look alike, I sometimes mutter to myself. Then like one who has just recovered from a fit, I flip back to reality and quickly discard the thoughts that we are the same. We are not, even though we may look alike, get classed alike, and have suffered (and still continue to suffer) similar prejudice and profiling. The truth is that deep inside we differ in ways that the world may never know or acknowledge.
I have overcome a number of structural barriers to get where I am. Most times these challenges were anything but simple. I have always had to work extra hard to fit into (or dispel) stereotypes that existed long before I and my brother were born. It saddens my heart to know that these barriers I speak of are not going to disappear anytime soon and that our children will have to begin from a place of disadvantage, just like I and my brother did many years ago. We promised mother, a long time ago, that we will do all we could to ensure our children will not have to start in the same place I and my brother began. For this reason, we have worked harder than any other person we have ever met. We have made huge contributions to the course of humanity, built economies and saved lives. But we have little to show for our labours. This is because for our labours we got the whip. For our discoveries we got nothing. And when I ask why? I found nothing. Brother, if you are reading this, please do not forget the promise we made to mother.
Sometimes I and my brother are tempted to believe we do not exist: we are not only fighting to overturn stereotypes that existed before we were born, we also work really hard to knock down as many barriers as we could in order to give our children a better start than we had. We hardly go on vacations, because we can hardly afford the time let alone the monies. We never went to the cinemas. What was normal for others became a crime for me and my brother.
My brother has a different name now. It is not the name mother gave him. I am not sure he remembers the name mother gave him. I often shrug this away by saying, “it doesn’t matter”. My brother’s new name is complex and I am not sure he knows the meaning of his new name. In all honesty, I do not know the meaning too. Sometimes, I think his name sounds like he is another man’s property! Is this complex new name (my brother bears now) responsible for his current psychology? Is brother’s awareness of himself still the same as when he was with mother? I know he thinks about these often. These thoughts must constitute great mental stress to my brother, I would often think to myself. Anytime I asked these questions, yet again as in the past, I found “nothing”.
My brother and I are often classed as lazy, unproductive, feeble, full of disease and good for nothing. No one really sees how far we have come, against all odds, nor is any willing to give us credits for the great strides we have made to even pull up to where we are today, very close to everyone else and in a relatively short time. I become really confused when we are told (in private) that we are hard working and intelligent but in the open silence greets our wits.
Dear brother, is it true that when you apply for jobs you will have to tick one little box with your new name against it? Is this because you are popular? Have you been told why they do this? I have searched to understand why, but I found “nothing”. Anytime I sit to watch the TV, brother, all I see are news reports about some bad things you have been accused of doing. This can not be right as I have never seen one that reports your side of the story. To be honest with you brother, the story is not very different about mother as well. Needless to mention me.
Whenever I am shoved aside before I am even listened to, treated less than others, humiliated because of my features and abused because of who I am, I find solace in the fact that I have a stool before mother and I can always return to her loving arms. I find solace in the fact that some of mothers’ kids are attuned with me. But I can not say this of my brother. This is because brother left many years ago before I was born. As I was told (and as local legends have it), my brother left hundreds of years ago. Nobody remembers his name anymore, after all, he has a new name now. A name which reflects only two things about my brother: where he left and where he is now. Maybe a third thing as well: his “owner”. I can tell, with pride, that I know my heritage, but I am not sure my brother can tell anyone anything about his heritage, without being told he is lazy and petulant. You can tell by now, how I and my brother differ I suppose.
I am still not able to get my head round how my brother perceives himself today. Has he been beaten too much and too hard by his life experiences that he no longer knows who he is? I know like me he gets shoved aside, talked down on and made to feel like he is inferior. What I do not know is how he copes. For me, the thoughts of returning to mother keep me sane and relaxed in the face of this great perturbation. But brother can no longer return. He will not be welcomed. Even if he is welcome, he will not fit. A lot has changed whilst he was away. I asked myself this question again and again, in futility and in foolish hopes thinking the answer would change. How does he cope? To my disappointment, the answer remains the same: “nothing”.
I often snap out of these thoughts, telling myself that none of these things I think about really matter. What matters more is that, like me, my brother now has a place that he can call home. He may not like his new home much, but home is home and he will have to make the most of what he has. Mother would always say to us (her many children) that “son you will have to make the most of your world, all the time. Life is indeed a struggle and you must find your footing or risk drowning”. If my brother is truly my brother, I am sure he will never forget these words. This is how I know he is fine.
Such flashbacks, to my roots and the words of my mother (Africa), gives me only momentary respite. Like one who is hooked onto some addictive substance, I find myself coming back to the same thoughts above about my brother (now known as African-American). I cannot stop thinking about him. Each time I complete the process, you know what I find? I find “nothing”.