Brothers
Originally uploaded by DavidBiddle.

“I hate him,” my brother Jesse screamed. “He’s nothing but a damn nigger!”

I came flying out of my bedroom in the basement and bolted for the stairs. As I moved, twisted emotions pulsed through my head–anger, longing, confusion, pride. I knew my anger wasn’t really due to the name my brother had called me. He was ten and I was twelve. In a way, his words were just a ridiculous joke. I wasn’t a nigger–at least I didn’t feel like one. But what was I? I wasn’t white like my brother and the rest of my family. I wasn’t black like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mrs. Brown, our housekeeper. I wasn’t even brown-skinned like Harry Belafonte or Lena Horn. But my skin was darker than most people’s of European descent, and lighter than most African Americans’.

I was adopted. My brother had heard the same story that I’d heard all my life.

“Your brother is mixed,” our mother would say.

“But what is the mix?” Jesse would ask.

“Well, it could be a lot of things,” she would say carefully. “We think David’s part black and maybe some other things, too.”

“But what part of me?” I would ask. “Am I half black? A quarter?”

“You might be Native American, too,” said our mother. “Or Hispanic.”

No one could give me specifics. It was all vague and non-defined. In fact, as far as I could tell it wasn’t even clear whether I was actually mixed race. By the time I was twelve I had been mistaken for a Jew, a Mexican, an Italian, and an Egyptian.

My little brother was mad at me, but it was the first time he had ever referred to me racially. I’d heard him shriek his epithet from my room where I’d been sent as punishment for a fight he and I were having. He was lying on the couch in the living room upstairs after our mother had separated us. I have no memory of what we were fighting about. It was past our bedtime, I remember that, and our father was out of town at a conference. Like all brothers close in age, we fought about a lot of dumb things, especially when we were tired.

I raced up the steps enraged, to be sure, but there was also a part of me that was proud and happy to be called that: a nigger. Looking back, I see now that I would have given anything to grow up knowing that I had African ancestors. I wouldn’t have felt so alone and isolated in the world. I wouldn’t have felt like an orphan or a mistake.

If you’re adopted, you shouldn’t believe anything they tell you.

“Mom,” I once asked, “you don’t really know anything about my background, do you?”

“The social worker told us you had some black in you.”

“But how do you know she was telling you the truth?”

“Some things in life you just don’t know, honey.”

“Someone knows.”

“Well–“

“There are people who know, Mom.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“My biological parents. They know what I am, they know what the mix is.”

“Yes, that’s true, but we have no way of getting in touch with them. We’re not allowed to.”

My mother was right, of course. My original birth certificate had been sealed by the courts in 1959, a year after I was born. The one I possessed said I was the son of Bruce and Ellen Biddle. The certificate listed both of them as “white.” There was no place on the certificate to list the race of the child. By inference then, I was “white” as well.

I burst into the living room with all of this jumbled up in my twelve-year-old mind and found my brother cowering on the couch, our mother nowhere to be found.

“Don’t you ever call me that again!” I screamed as I launched my body in the air feet first. I can still see my blond-haired, blue-eyed younger brother in a submissive, near fetal position, shutting his eyes but holding his face up for my feet to slam into.

I caught him on both cheeks with my heels and knocked his head around hard into the back of the couch. For a few seconds he didn’t move. In my anger, I felt glad about this. He remained silent. No crying, no breathing even. His face was just buried in the fabric of the couch. My brother: frozen by fear and pain from my kick and, I realize now, these many years later, frozen by the agony and shame of having called me a nigger.

“That’ll teach you,” I said. “Don’t you ever call me that again.” And he never did.

2 Comments

  • Anonymous Posted January 23, 2005 4:44 am

    Wow. Great little mini-story, so much in so few lines.SS

  • Anonymous Posted July 8, 2005 8:04 pm

    In regards to the African-American ‘ethnic’ grouping – listed below is a link to a few rather interesting topics that are found at the MGM-AfroEuropeans online discussion forum.http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mgmafroeuropeans/message/207http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mgmafroeuropeans/This site was created to serve as a discussion forum for people of a Multi-Generationally Multiracially (MGM) Mixed lineage– of any combination which also includes, but is not limited to, both European and African bloodlines.

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