An invitation to wrestle with our story in a way that leads to transformation is also an invitation to see the intrigue, beauty, and complexity in the stories of those who are different from us. Here, Heather Casimere writes about her family of origin, the role her brothers have played in her life, and what it might mean to remain open to the particular stories and experiences that have shaped those around us.
This past semester, we were asked to enter into our Family of Origin stories. Being asked to do so in spaces that are often vulnerable for me, as one of few women of color, has been aggravating and frustrating at times. Engaging childhood trauma in a land that at times feels foreign and gray; presenting the work of an African-African Womanist theologian to a class of mostly Caucasian students; moving to a city that is significantly less ethnically diverse than others I have resided in—all of these factors have made me aware of the unique lens through which I view this world, even in my new context as one of the few brown faces at The Seattle School.
Partly because I miss them, and partly because of this Family of Origin work, family has been on my mind lately. In particular, my brothers.
Their solidarity, support, and protection have been present with me through many a trial and disappointment. Likewise, they have celebrated with me many successes and joys. Sandwiched as I am between them, the writer in me has always liked to think of the two as my “Bookends.”
Perhaps this imagery is a little too Beauty and the Beast, but this concept of my brothers standing on either end of me has been one that has caused me to smile in past years. It’s less that they are my accomplices and sidekicks, and more that I would not be who I am without them. They are the people with whom I share all of the Family of Origin stories from which I come. They’ve seen me in and through my awkward teen years, the insufferable undergrad ones (where I’d come home to educate everyone in our household about the African Diaspora), the admirable seasons. And they have shared many of theirs with me.
I write these words to honor them, to recognize their voice(s) as brown men of distinction. As I am realizing the importance of sharing my voice in the unique environment of The Seattle School, I can’t help but think of theirs. Amidst a society in which the voices of black men have often been marginalized, the lives of black men dehumanized and criminalized, I don’t think of my two accomplices as such. They are as unique as they are similar. They are distinct in their personalities. They are power and persistence and strength. They are kindness. They are love.
When I think of these (now) men who have stood on either side of me for as far back as I can remember, I think of a young boy who proudly rocked cowboy boots and traversed soccer fields; of a brother with a broken arm earned from basketball season who still came to the rescue even as our family raft capsized in Yosemite Valley’s Merced River. I think of Ninja Turtles and Double Dragon, the endless bleeps and bloops of Tekken and Mario Brothers. I think of the two of them wrestling and the three of us teasing one another. I think of their very nature: of having to be tough because of how they landed in the world. I am reminded of their toughness causing me to want to keep up. I think of their pet snakes and lizards, alongside my pet hamster. I wonder if one of those escaped snakes or lizards ate my pet hamster (which, the story goes, also escaped).
I think about stereotypes that are placed on black men in this country and the disappointments of life that one has to face simply from being born darker than a brown paper bag and male.
When I think of my brothers, I think of men who are charismatic, kind, compassionate, sensitive, tenacious, persevering, stubborn. I think of men who are willing to sacrifice many things for their family and friends. I think of men who daily make hard decisions. I think of men who live their lives, who do the best that they can. I think of two men who are admirable and true and have had my back all of our lives.
I hope these words honor them. But I wonder if these words might also expose a greater truth: that the perceptions that we so often carry of one another, simply because of skin color and the physical packages in which we come, may not match the contents of who we actually are inside. We all carry stories of origins. We each come with a past. That much has been made clear at The Seattle School. Can we acknowledge that though we often share space, we just as often look past one another because of what we think we know about each other’s outward packaging?
The perceptions that we so often carry of one another may not match the contents of who we actually are.
We each inhabit very different lands. Yet there is beauty in each of the stories we represent. There is beauty in our distinction. If we look closer, beyond the packaging, we might surprise one another. We might not just see Caramel Brown or Dark As Night or Cafe con Leche; but also cowboy boots and soccer balls; also heroes with broken arms and loving hearts.
How could I stand without these Bookends?
I could not.