Brother by David Chariandy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a literary take on being a minority teen and living in a large city (in this case Toronto) in a minority community. The first half took me a little while to get into. Once I hit the halfway mark it suddenly seemed like I had been with these characters all along. I'm not sure what triggered this change. All I know is that once it happened it was like magic.
I think sometimes Canadians (especially Caucasians) like to believe that conditions aren't as bad here as they are in the United States for minority groups. David Chariandy certainly reminds Canadians that that isn't true. It's difficult for me to accept and realize that some conditions and situations are so awful in my country for minorities. It's also frustrating and infuriating to think that anyone might be singled out or spoken to like some of the characters in Brother in my own Canadian city (Calgary).
I was especially upset by the scenes that depict the minority Mothers being accosted or pushed out of a grocery store. How is it that we can't allow people to buy groceries in peace?! Nourishment is a fundamental need to exist! At points I wanted to go online or to the top of a rooftop and tell all these minority women that I'm sorry on behalf of all the white people that treat them poorly. As a woman I think the moments in which the women were pushed around and chose to be silent or quietly accept the awful things being said or done were the hardest. I know why those women chose to react the way they do and it's out of fear and a desire to not 'cause a scene' or diffuse the situation with silence. This is a frustrating reality that many women live on a daily basis and I wish it didn't need to be that way.
Reminder to Myself
There is a second part to my frustration, Brother reminded me to be cautious of how I appear to react to people when I take public transit, walk on the sidewalk or otherwise am out in public. Am I intentionally scorning some people without realizing it? Do I have an unconscious reaction to cross the street or change my route because of who is on the street in front of me? While I may be admiring someone's unique (and gorgeous) scarf or clothing, could they be misinterpreting my interest in their traditional clothing?
I want to stop this in myself. Especially as I've recently been taking public transit to and from work (into Calgary downtown core) everyday. I cannot hide, and would not want to, that I am a white girl with a decent job. This is obvious based on my outward appearance. Just the same as a black woman cannot hide herself. Thinking about this obvious appearance and what it may mean to others has made me more conscious of my actions or facial expressions. It has made me smile, nod or otherwise try to appear pleasant to more people (even if I've had a bad day). White I may not be able to change anything at least I know (or hope) I didn't make it any worse for anyone.
The main focus of this book, besides prejudice and racism, is definitely the dynamic family relationships that exist. The title is well chosen. Brother is all about our lead characters older brother at the end of the day.
Chariandy has made me hope that those in positions of power or that are looked up to (which is essentially everyone in some instance) realize how much their actions and choice can affect the younger people around them. Brother is all about how the older brother appears to the younger.
I think it's too easy to forget that we are always being watched by younger generations. Whether that person is a child, teen or adult. Our decisions ultimately mean something to everyone around us. I for one hope that I am setting a good precedent for those that may look up to me. Especially when I think about my teenage nieces and nephew. I am usually conscious that I am influencing my toddler nieces because they are so young; but I wonder if over the years I ever made the same connection when it came to my older nieces and nephew. I'm now reminding myself that it's never too late to think harder about my decisions and the message they my send. If I want others to be morale and good people then I must ensure I am doing everything I can to be one myself.
This is certainly a story that any English teacher could read a lot into. It's relevant to the violence and constant prejudice that exists in today's society; and a good reminder that Canada is not necessarily any better than any other country (especially the USA). Maybe we have fewer guns (and subsequently less violent deaths than the USA) but that doesn't mean we aren't just as awful to minority groups in other ways or aren't creating situations that lead to similar violence or discriminatory acts.
Making people feel safe needs to become more of a focus. We need to convince both children, teens and adults that they don't need to be the biggest bully to be safe. And everyone needs to truly think about the reality of society and living in Canada; instead of making ourselves believe it's better "just because".
I thank Chariandy for writing and sharing this story. I presume some of it is based on things he saw in his own childhood or has heard about in Toronto. There is an obvious truth to the words in Brother and we could all benefit from reading them and reflecting on them as they relate to our everyday lives.
Remember we are all just people trying to get by in any way we can. Ours and others bad decisions are usually because of circumstance, lack of education or understanding. Everyone could benefit from a little more compassion towards one another. We are all just trying to exist and survive in the climate and circumstances we have been put into. Brother is an excellent reminder of this. The realistic setting, dialogue and situations from Brother happen everyday and we should all try to be more aware of our role in each interaction in our own communities.
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