Dear Friends,

I have two brothers. I haven’t seen either of my brothers in years, but I imagine they are as I remember– kind, funny, generous, handsome, sappy, slightly irritating, intelligent, dependable. My brothers are five and twelve years older than me, and were just as big brothers should be– protective, caring, impatient and tough. They both now have families of their own, and countries, lifestyles and interests have distanced us, but when I think of good, beautiful men, I think of my brothers.

We left Kingston when I was eleven, thus my my brother M was 16. At 16, and he’d deny this, he loved Whitney Houston, as much as he loved Guns and Roses. He played on his high school’s soccer team, raced on the swim team, drew wonderful pictures, drove around in a blue Pinto (which he hated), and had a typical suburban life. As the only black boy in his high school of 2000 kids, as far as I knew, he faced no discrimination. On the weekends, he went to parties, dated some peppy girls, and was always with his two best friends– Andy and Bob. Only my brother can tell his story, but from what I saw, his life seemed great.

We were the black family in our neighborhood, and I remember my father telling my brother one day, not to get too close to a particular girl in the neighborhood, because she was sexually active, and he didn’t want any “problems.” One would think that my father meant he didn’t want my brother coming home saying that he was going to be a dad, but that’s not what my father intended at all. My father is explicit, so no one ever had to guess what he means. He said, “Don’t forget you’re black, and if something goes wrong, you’re at fault.” My brother was outraged, perhaps for a myriad of reasons: a) Color was never an issue for him, and now he was reduced to being “a black boy” b) He wasn’t interested in that girl sexually. c) My father may have been brash in his delivery. (Perhaps, wasn’t outraged, and only my memory of the night gives him that feeling.)

Growing up in Kingston, we were never called to examine our race, our blacknesss– there was no need. Everyone in school, on the street, in the neighborhood, at church, in the country, were varying degrees of blackness, brown-ness, and cream-ness. We could be ourselves, just a child, just a person. You never know the feeling of such a warm embrace until you leave it in the autumn. It was surprising to me that my father would give my brother such an admonition in the nineties– after all, it wasn’t the 60s in the South, right?

In the U.S, there have been such a spate of racially motivated incidents that they have pricked something in my consciousness. I can’t say that I never cry, but do so so rarely that it takes me aback when it happens. I’m not sure what was tapped in me today, but when I watched the video of UVA student, Martese Johnson, on the ground, being rough-housed by two cops, it broke my heart. This happens every day, and when these incidents happen, I think of my brothers and all the other wonderful men that I know, and the ones I don’t, and think, “Why is this still happening in 2015?” Being a Black man in America in 2015, despite definite changes, still seems to be a reason to watch your step.

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Love,

Val