A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

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My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

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That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

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Trent

When I saw my cousin Trent this summer, it was the first time I’d seen him in 5 years.

The last time I saw him, in the summer of 2008, he was 11. He kept drumming on every single surface in my grandmother/his great-grandmother’s house with his hands like he was preparing to be a world-class percussionist. He picked blackberries and baked blackberry pie with Juma. When I was at work at the Renaissance fair, he would take my camera and take goofy pictures of himself. He wore my aunt Brenda’s (his grandmother) wigs around the house and at one point wore a wig, a pair of sunglasses, and a throw around his neck, walked outside and to Juma’s front door, and tried to convince his Granny that he was someone selling Girl Scout cookies. And he helped me pull a prank on our cousin Michael.

This summer of 2013, he was 16. He had grown immeasurably and it freaked me out that he was now taller than me. We kept trying to fight each other on the beach (with his height and strength, I was easily defeated). During a nightly family walk on the beach, as my boyfriend and I stood hand in hand, he came up to us and asked if we were going to get married. He gave everyone big hugs. He rode the waves with our cousins. He poured Mountain Dew on top of an alligator’s head to see how it would react.

I figured I’d see him again the next time I went to the beach, maybe in a year or two. I could not have possibly known that it would be the last time I’d ever see him.

My mom called me on New Year’s Eve with the news. A car accident. Trent didn’t make it. The goofy cousin with the contagious smile was gone. I heard the words but I didn’t believe they were true. I still don’t believe it.

What I do know is that my heart is broken. For my family. For his brother Trevor and his sister Savannah. For his mom, my cousin Erin, who shouldn’t have to bury her youngest son. For his grandmother, my aunt Brenda, who shouldn’t have to bury her grandson. For my Gammy, his great-grandmother, who shouldn’t have to bury her great-grandson.

None of this is fair. None of this is ok. None of this is the way it should be.

I have no inspirational words. And I refuse to say this is part of God’s plan, because I refuse to believe in a God who plans horrible things like this. I refuse to believe it is God’s plan for a mother to bury her son, and grandparents to bury their grandbabies.

All I have to say to my family is this: I am so sorry. I loved Trent and wished I could have had more time with him. I hate that we are going through this. And I will love and hold and support you as well as I can. We’re family, and distance doesn’t change that. Because one thing I do believe, is that love is stronger than death and fear.

To my family, I offer you my love, support, prayers, and strength. To Trent, I will miss you dearly. To my community, please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate these rough waters.

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