When The Person Who Called Your Brother a “Terrorist” Gets Engaged To A Brown Girl
It’s funny to think that before Facebook people could flow in and out of your life without you having to be updated on their current whereabouts. I think that’s how life was supposed to be designed. After leaving behind faces from a previous stage, you have more mental room for the people who are a part of your life. So when you see photos of the person who called your brother a “terrorist” getting engaged to a brown girl, you realize how much this person has overstayed their welcome in your head.
When you first come across these photos, you laugh. It’s moments like these when you remember how God has a sense of humor. You stare at these photos a little longer than usual on your normal mindless scrolling session. After soaking in the irony, you continue to scroll, but something doesn’t feel right. It’s like your mind just opened up a Google Doc, and the essay is due at midnight. Thoughts, memories, and anger pour out onto the page in a panic. The amusing little moment turns to one of frustration as you ask yourself as to how someone can move on with their life after causing so much pain in yours. You keep scrolling, hoping that these feelings will go away, but your mind is set on meeting this imaginary deadline.
You flashback to your high school theater days where you had to tell two students that your brother wasn’t a terrorist. They were insistent that he was a terrorist because he loves studying Turkey and the Middle East. This is Midwestern, Catholic school lingo for “he’s brown, and I don’t know what to do with that.” You think back to how our society praises suburban dads and their sons for learning everything there is to know about World War II, but when it comes to non-Eurocentric history, it suddenly becomes an issue of terrorism. You remember how your brother used an assignment to advocate for an AP World History class in order to help expand students’ understanding of different races and cultures. For most students, the essay was merely an assignment. For your brother, it was an attempted solution to a much larger problem.
You call up your brother to give him this ironic news and rehash your shared trauma of being brown in corn country. Your conversation moves from one person to your whole high school. The two of you reflect on how despite being star students and participating in all the resume-building extracurriculars you never felt equal to your peers. Maybe it was the fact that you were a little too outspoken in your religion class, but there was a subtle understanding that you would never be on a brochure for your school. The only reason to include you would be to act as a racially ambiguous background character or a non-white hand in a “rainbow” of students’ hands for the yearbook cover.¹ Your brother and you realize that when you signed up for a private education it came with the implied understanding that high school would not be a nostalgic time period for you. You were lucky to find a private school in your area, so any complaints about how you were treated and viewed were not considered valid.
As you hang up the phone, you realize that seeing this photo on Facebook unleashed the floodgates of Catholic school memories. You then list off all of the microaggressions you experienced. The favorite microaggression was when teachers would confuse you with other non-white students. You didn’t even have to look alike — just being not white was enough. You laugh at how your school was so white that students would lecture you about the difference between being Sicilian and being Italian.² Meanwhile, a boy, whom I’d known since sixth grade and had multiple classes with, mispronounced my last name over the PA system during my senior year of high school. There’s two things you’ll remember post-Catholic school: the definition of transubstantiation³ and a clear understanding of who’s race and culture they deemed worthy.
That’s why it makes your blood boil when you see fellow classmates post about Black Lives Matter and other issues pertaining to racial inequality. Because you know that while it was hard being half-white at your high school, you couldn’t even imagine what it was like to be of a completely different race. You scream as you wonder where your classmates allyship was in high school. Where were they when a classmate declared that your white mother couldn’t be related to you in front of your soccer team? Or when someone made fun of a classmate for dating someone outside of their race? And why did it take going to college for them to start listening and engaging with communities outside of their own?
When you finally logout of Facebook, you go and vent to your friends. It surprises you that your frustration is met with some confusion. You then realize that they grew up in cities where it was inappropriate to ask someone “So what are you?”. You remember that “diversity” has become as trendy as coconut oil. People smack this label on everything, but you still can’t taste the difference. The word “minority” used to feel the exact way that it sounds: small and insignificant. Now, it feels like a badge of honor. You then wonder if you even have the right to call yourself a minority because you’re half-white, but you decide to save that thought spiral for another day.
Suddenly, an idea creeps into your mind. You could slip into their fiancée’s DMs and reveal the truth about their past, restoring a sense of self-determined justice to the world. Maybe you can create a service where people of color can check with their white partner’s high school classmates of color to see if their actions have always lined up with their woke Instagram posts?
Now, you finish your blog post and see the pain, and frankly bitterness, seep through the words. Refreshing their engagement photos on Facebook, you see how happy they are.
You realize that the person they were in high school isn’t the same person in those photos; the same way that you’ve changed since you were sixteen. This was the change that you were hoping for — people becoming more compassionate towards others and using their resources to educate others. You just didn’t think this change would come at the price of opening up old wounds. Why wasn’t this person who you needed them to be in high school?
You then reflect on how you were not always the person people needed you to be when they needed you most. You may have not failed your friends and peers in terms of racist actions, but you weren’t always the best friend either. Because of our innate brokenness, people will always fail us to some extent, and we all have the scars to show it. This doesn’t condone their racist behavior in high school, but it also helps both of you move on and grow.
You realize that if we want people to truly change we need to give them the grace to do so. Otherwise, they will always be the person who called your brother a “terrorist”. The frustration you once felt then becomes calm — maybe even content. And we ask these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Actually happened to my brother in middle school.
- An alternative line: “Your school was so white that they had a blonde girl put on a brunette wig to play Anita in West Side Story.” These are my “yo mama” jokes.
- Transubstantiation is the process of the Eucharist physically becoming the body and blood of Christ — this information is brought to you by six years of religion classes.