“What did you just say to me?”
I had already passed him so I just did hear the question, so lost in my travels and so accustomed to just saying it and going I was. It caught me almost out of earshot, one more step and I might’ve lost the opportunity to expound on what had just happened. Chance, happenstance, call it what you will but I’d like to think that there were powers at work right about then; powers that if nothing else, want to give each of us every available chance to get to know one another a little better. I’ve lost you I know, so let me explain. See, it went like this.
The man was white. I’d approached him on the street and as is my custom, I greeted him with my usual. “How’s the brother?” The man stopped and turned, “Excuse me?” he replied. I heard the question in his voice. I hear it sometimes when I speak these particular words of greeting to people who aren’t black or brown.
Me: I said, how’s the brother?
Man: (With a confused look) Uhh…
Me: It’s a greeting; a way of saying hello.
Man: Oh, I get it.
This last was spoken before he turned and walked away knowingly as if he’d just uncovered a hidden truth. I hope he had; who knew what people realized once they were in the privacy of their own thoughts?
Much like the greetings of old that were essentially benedictions or prayers to ward off evil, I see the question “How’s the brother?” as an epitaph of both concern and acknowledgement. Hopefully, and this is where I guess I get a bit naive, if enough of us do it then more of us will actually start to care.
Given time, maybe we’ll come to see that a brother is not solely a fellow black man, or even another brown man for that matter. We’ll recognize and appreciate pronunciation and establish that a brotha is not necessarily a thug or someone to be avoided. We’ll embrace the challenge of accepting that a brother is every man and we’ll take every chance to let the world know that we know this.
It does come at a price though; the price of erasing the easy luxury of ignorance. It’s easy to think along colloquial and everyday societal lines where commonality is racially biased. In that way, all brothers are black men and black only. It’s a characterization that doesn’t necessarily do us as a whole any good. It affords us nothing in the way of advancing togetherness and is even a way to denounce an entire segment of the population. It’s how hate starts.
It’s harder to flip the script, so to speak. Looking beyond such petty and entrenched ways while trying to mingle our way out of these segmented and striated clusters we call race will be difficult. Difficult, yes but not impossible. At a time when the world is literally going out, not with the portended bang but with the proverbial whisper bit by bit, we need something to say that it’s OK to be together as one, all of us.
So when you pass that man, regardless of his color, ask him in greeting, “how’s the brother”? Probably, you’ll get the surprise I was met with but hopefully soon, you’ll get a nod of understanding with the response, “the brother’s fine”. Once we can easily speak these words to each other then we too, will truly be fine also. I’m just saying, naively…