Brothers (and Me): A Memoir About Loving & Giving to Black Men

February 23, 2012  |  

For better or worse, Donna Britt, like so many other black women, cannot give up on black men. A veteran journalist, Britt, explores her relationship with men in her first memoir, “Brothers (& Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving.”

On the cover of the book, Britt is surrounded by a bevy of black men. Throughout the book, we find that Britt cannot escape them. Whether growing up in a house with three brothers, trying to sustain two marriages (not simultaneously of course) or raising three sons (and taking in another), Britt is constantly loving, nurturing, supporting, encouraging and most of all giving to black men.

The untimely death of her beloved, older brother, Darrell, at the hands of Indiana police, is the crux of the memoir. Darrell’s death heightens Britt’s awareness of the potential dangers black men face and further exacerbates her need to protect them.

She states: “in a nation in which black men die younger and more often than any other group of men, black women fear for the brothers in their lives, and for themselves at the prospect of losing them.”

As black women, this is a story we know all too well. Historically, black women have been conditioned to be there for black men because we know that often times we’re their only ally in a world that is, as Britt describes it, “both enamored and repelled” by them. While adopting such an attitude is admirable, it can be simultaneously problematic when women start placing their desire and or need to support black men before themselves.

Reading Britt’s memoir I couldn’t help but be reminded of the national debate black women have been having privately and publicly for years. Should we open up our dating pool to non-black men? It’s funny that this is even a topic of conversation. If you think back, there was never such widespread discourse encouraging black men to do the same. While I’m sure there are black men who’d prefer to only date black women, I’d argue that generally speaking black men don’t struggle with the decision to date women of other races. Why?  Because while we share racial and cultural customs, black boys who eventually become men are not raised and conditioned in the same ways black girls are. We receive very distinct messages about the types of men it’s acceptable to date and eventually marry, while men are much less restricted in that way. The conditioning we receive from girlhood makes us believe dating and or marrying outside of our race somehow means we’ve abandoned or given up on black men. It doesn’t have to be that complicated but this notion of giving up on black men can be troublesome for black women.

While Britt’s story is familiar to us, it is her own; yet it’s also indicative of the lives women of all races lead. How many of us give and give to our friends, our family, our men and our children, sometimes at the expense of ourselves. It’s certainly not a new concept; but Britt’s exploration of giving and loving is both refreshing and thought provoking.

After a lifetime of giving to men, it’s Britt’s middle and most challenging son, named after his deceased uncle, and her husband that give her the life lesson she needs to receive. Her life with these men teaches her and other women that while you may be a giver, it’s unhealthy to measure your level of nurturing against your loved ones. We all show our love and appreciation for people in different ways, through different means.

Overall, “Brother’s (& Me)” is an engrossing, delightful memoir that is accessible yet poignant in the racial, societal and gender-related issues that it explores.

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