I love my brother. He's a 6'5" veteran who totes around a four-pound Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix. He's the kind of guy who won't be caught dead in Starbucks, which he refers to as a "yuppie's paradise," except for when he's around my children. Then he gladly takes them in and buys each of them a week's supply of cake pops and cookies. My kids FaceTime him on an almost daily basis, and he makes it a point to send them cards, their favorite junk food items, and a steady stream of toys he knows they'll love but will drive me nuts. But in spite of the love we all have for him, we will not be joining my parents as they visit him for the holidays this year. As great at my brother can be, he just doesn't get that none of us find his jokes funny, and we're all tired of worrying about which news story is going to trigger a tirade about immigration and terrorism. With each of my kids at an age where they repeat just about everything, I really don't need them hearing his racist banter . . . especially during the holidays.
My brother and I were raised in the same home, by the same parents, and went through the same school system. Racism is not something we were ever taught.
Spending any length of time around my brother can be stressful. He was barely 18 when he served his first tour in Afghanistan, and he came home with severe PTSD. He was still struggling with it when he went over for his second tour, and battling it still when he was called for his third. Now, over 10 years later, he continues to work closely with his VA counselor, but is still prone to occasional outbursts, which oftentimes turn into racist tirades. We've all learned the hard way that to engage with him while he's in the midst of one of his tangents only makes it worse. The fact that he lives out-of-state and we're able to hang up the phone or mute the family group text is our one saving grace when things go south. But during the holidays, we obviously don't have that advantage, which is usually when a lot of these heated discussions happen.
When he's not ranting about certain groups of people invading our country, my brother will try to entertain us with a collection of wildly inappropriate jokes. We've all told him time and time again that he's not funny, but he doesn't seem to get it. Or maybe he does get it and is just looking for a reaction. No one knows and no one wants to ask for fear of him taking off on another tangent. Luckily (because glass half full), he only pulls this stuff around us, and only when we're all together. When any of us are out with my brother, he's his normal, goofy, childish self, and, much to the delight of my children, almost all of his jokes are about poop.
My brother and I were raised in the same home, by the same parents, and went through the same school system. Racism is not something we were ever taught. Not only is that not how we were raised, but our own mother is Hispanic, and that makes his behavior even more bizarre. There are times when I wonder if his experiences in the military, whatever they may have been (he won't talk about them, but the few details that have come out during his outbursts sound pretty horrific), are the reason behind his sometimes hateful rhetoric toward certain groups of people. Maybe that's a stretch, but since I love my brother, I try to come up with some explanation for his behavior. But no matter what, I still can't excuse it and allow my children to be subjected to it.
My husband and I have taught our children that there are two types of people in this world: good people and bad people. And whether they are good or bad has nothing to do with the color of their skin or where they come from. When they ask why someone has brown skin, our answer is the same as when they ask why some people have red hair: because that's the way God made them. When it comes to my brother, I'm doing my best to teach him the same, and for the sake of our family, I hope he starts to listen.