Wait… how is he your brother?


When my brother was born, my mom told my sister and I that she hated the word “half.” She didn’t believe that the tiny little baby boy who looked like an Eskimo was half anything– he deserved our full love no matter what our relationship was. She didn’t like the idea of half a family. Since then, I have never once considered calling him my half-brother. We were raised together, after all. That said, I am constantly forced to call him my half-brother in order to explain our relationship to people. You see, my brother is dark-skinned. His father is from the French island of Mayotte, which is just off the coast of Madagascar. My father is British and I am blonde and light-skinned. When people see photos of us, they immediately feel compelled to ask: wait… how is he your brother? Recently, I went to a lecture at the American Library in Paris given by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the famed African-American writer for The Atlantic. During his speech, Ta-Nehisi spoke about the Trayvon Martin case, which touches me personally because my brother, who is now ten, is quickly approaching his teenage years and the reality of being a black man in America. After the lecture, I got the opportunity a question. I asked Ta-Nehesi about the future for young, black Americans– like his twelve-year-old son or my brother. After the lecture, four different strangers approached me to ask me, not about the question I had asked, but how I happened to have a sibling who is black. Each of those four times, I was forced to call my brother my half-brother in order to explain. “Ahhhh,” they said, as if the light had dawned on a particularly disturbing question. One particularly insensitive women called over to her husband “HALF, Charles, he’s her HALF brother!” The women then told me that I must feel kinship with Ta-Nehisi because he has half-siblings, too. It was strange and rather inappropriate, but I am used to it. People have even corrected me when I am speaking about my brother– “you mean your half-brother?” I guess in some ways he is. But in my heart and in my family, half doesn’t exist.

Keep the conversation going - comment and discuss with your thoughts

2 Responses to "Wait… how is he your brother?"
  1. I-hear-ya. says:

    My mother counts relationships using the “half” term too. She only considers her grandchildren by blood when she gives someone her grandkid count (she ignores those brought-in by marriage). Drives me crazy! We’ve hosted four exchange students for 10 month periods. Those kids become part of our family. We call them our “daughters” when in public – not to mislead anyone, but because we don’t feel the need to explain the relationship to everyone. We all know our relationship, and that these kids have biological parents back in Germany, France, and Denmark, but we feel like a family while they’re here and even after they return home. Again, this drives my mother crazy, but it’s her problem, not ours.

  2. Rusty73 says:

    Thank you so much for writing this story. You bring hope to this discussion and reading this brought me back to times when I didn’t feel race was such an important factor in how I deal with others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Tweets by Michele Norris