Home > Book, Genre, memoir, Review > Book Review: Brothers (and Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving by Donna Britt

Book Review: Brothers (and Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving by Donna Britt

Old photograph in bottom right corner of Britt's family.Summary:
Now in her fifties, Donna Britt, an award-winning and ground-breaking black, female journalist, takes a look back at her life to see what has influenced her the most.  She is unsurprised to find that her life has largely been affected by loving and giving to brothers–black men she’s both related to and not.  From growing up surrounded by three blood brothers, to loving brothers, to raising them, Britt discusses the universal influence heterosexual women’s love for men has on their lives, as well as the unique aspect of loving a race of men persecuted in the United States and raising her three boys in the face of the odds stacked against them.

Review:
Britt’s career as a writer shows in her memoir.  It is the most well put-together memoir I’ve read in quite some time.  Each chapter looks at a key event in her life in order of it being lived, but also looks at the impact those events had on her as a person.  She does this by starting with a photograph and an anecdote related to the event, then moves on to describing the event in detail.  Everything in her life, though, is impacted by her brother, Darrell’s, death at the hands of two policemen in his early 20s.  This terribly unjust incident and how it flavors the rest of her life is the simplest and most effective anti police brutality message I’ve ever read.  Was her brother threatening the officers? Maybe.  But all it would have taken was for those two men to aim to stop rather than to kill to prevent the loss of someone’s loved one.  Britt says later in her memoir that she knows that those officers just saw “a crazy black man” and not a person, and it is now her goal to always see the person, not the stereotype.

Britt, like other memoirists I’ve enjoyed, never takes a “poor me” attitude or tone, in spite of the fact that she really could given the loss of her brother, being raped, and a first marriage to a man who soon got lost in cocaine addiction.  Not to mention her second husband’s affair.  Yet, through all of this, Britt’s resilience is evident.  She constantly tries to improve not just the world but herself.  Britt has an ability to look at herself without rose-tinted glasses.  She knows her own faults, primarily that she’s a perfectionist and expects too much from people.  I think that’s what makes her so relatable and sympathetic.  She’s an imperfect person struggling in an imperfect world, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t right about the injustices she’s seen throughout her life.

I think any female reader who has a brother can understand the other central question in Britt’s memoir–How exactly did these boys who were our brothers who loved us and pranked us and guarded us with their fists when we were young grow up into these baffling men?  Boys are easy to understand.  Men, not so much.  That’s even the case with Britt’s own brothers, one of whom grew from a rebel into a religious man who changes his name from Steve to Melech and whom she barely speaks to anymore.  Why is it when boys become men and we go from girls to women that communication becomes so hard?  Hard, but rewarding and not impossible.  Sure, no answers are offered, but it’s nice to see this experience through someone else’s eyes.

Beyond social justice and the universal communication difficulties between men and women, Britt’s memoir also clearly demonstrates an issue that is sometimes hard to explain–that of privilege.  Those born with privilege sometimes have a hard time understanding what, exactly, it is those without it are speaking about.  I sometimes wonder myself if I’d understand privilege if I’d been born a white MAN instead of a white WOMAN.  Britt with a gift of subtlety makes this clear.  She talks about needing to be extra perfect, extra good in order to combat the stereotype of the useless black children.  Of feeling like she’s representing the entire race when she’s the only black student in her graduate class.  Of the fact that maybe if her brother had been white and acting crazy the cops might not have shot him.  Of being extra concerned when her son shoplifts because he probably wouldn’t get away with just a slap on the wrist if he got caught.  Instead of talking loudly about privilege, it’s simply evident throughout her entire life and the lives of those around her.  I would hope that anyone reading this would start to see how inequality survives today, even if it’s not as institutionalized as it once was.

Overall, this is a powerful memoir by a humble woman that again demonstrates why it’s important to listen to the life stories of those older than us.  There is always something to learn or to relate to from their life journey.  I, naturally, don’t always agree with Britt or her choices, but I respect her commitment to living the best life she can.

I recommend this memoir to fans of the genre, especially, but also to those with an interest in racism in 20th century America and relationships between men and women.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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  1. January 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    A thorough review which makes me want to read this book badly. It’s hard to know and accept our faults. Equally hard is how those faults affect those around us. I’m an only child so cannot relate to the brother thing. But I’ve seen what you describe in boys, now men, whom I grew up with. Sometimes one wonders how that particular asshole emerged from the caring boy. Men have to think hard about their coming of age processes. Thanks for the review. Britt sounds incredibly real and compassionate.

    • January 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      Ah, I’m glad you appreciated my review. I was a bit worried I yakked on a bit too much, but Britt just really made me think so much that I had a lot to say! I really came to appreciate Britt as a woman, so I’m glad that came through in my review. 🙂

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