My brother (four years younger than me, we are both in our 30s and single, I am a woman) and I have had a back and forth relationship - it was normal brother/sister stuff - fighting and whatnot but nothing crazy - until I went to college, when we were super close. Then when I graduated college, he started and dropped out and went to community college and finally graduated after 7 years, and is actually doing really well as a banker, though he's between jobs now. Our relationship deteriorated rapidly after I graduated college though, because he had a big issue with drinking and was living with our parents and using them, I thought. That was a long time ago, and I've tried really hard to see where he's coming from and I thought our relationship had improved, but now new issues have come up... (wall of text inside)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The other night my brother texted me that I'm "obsessed with racism and sexism" and "see sexism everywhere" and "need to change." This (I think) was precipitated by the fact that I posted something on Facebook about changing demographics of immigrants in the US that said West Virginia now has more Indian immigrants than from any other foreign country. Our parents are Indian immigrants, and we are from Virginia, so I just thought this was interesting. He had also sent me an article that was one of those listicles that said "Things Not To Say When on a First Date with a Desi (Person of Indian extraction)" and had things like, "what ARE you?" or "where are you from" He knows that I hate when people ask "where I'm from" and expect me to say "India," whether on a date or elsewhere.
I shouldn't have taken the bait, but it was very late and I was tired, so I texted him back that we just have different ideas of what sexism and racism are (he thinks the only definition of prejudice is if you are denied a job or housing because of gender or skin tone, people can hate you as much as they want in secret I guess, as long as you get jobs and housing). I think asking someone with an obviously American accent if they're from another country is racist and othering. (This is just one example, there are so many more, like people telling me I have "Chinese eyes" so can't possibly be Indian because of my Chinese eyes. Or that I must be part Mexican because...no idea.
I don't want to convince him of this, but he seems to passionately believe that I am irrational and horrible and making myself miserable because I talk about race and sexism. I actually find it very relieving to talk about it and get empathy and similar stories from other people who have experienced similar things, or can just listen even if they haven't. It actually makes me feel much much better than revising my views on what racism and sexism are ever would, or just never talking about anything ever.
He doesn't believe this, he thinks I am "so angry at white people" - it is not just white people who say I have Chinese eyes or ask what country I'm from, so don't even know what that's about. I'm not "so angry at white people," most of my friends are white and honestly most of them understand where I'm coming from. Growing up in VA, people were "colorblind" but I felt like it was OK for people to walk up to you and make swami motions and say "what's it like in your country" and he never left that environment so I can see why he would feel differently about racism, and that's fine so I try not to discuss it with him, and edited my Facebook so that he can't see any of my posts any more.
But I think there's another, darker issue at play. During this text fight, he said I'm "just like our father", inflexible and unwilling to change. I don't think this is true. My father has a lot of health problems and still smokes, and gets crazy defensive if you try to talk to him about it. I said I'm happy to have an open conversation about my views on racism and sexism, I'm just not going to change the definition to "it's only racism if you don't get a job or house".
He just unleashed a torrent of rage at me, like I'm so selfish, I'm just like our father, I don't have any empathy or introspection, I don't care about anyone, I'm perpetuating racism by "focusing on it," etc. I was like, "seriously, you don't know me, I feel like we're strangers if you think these things about me" and he was like "what does it mean to know you? why can't you be vulnerable" I thought I WAS being vulnerable by saying " I feel like when people ask me what country I'm from, when I was born in Virginia and have no discernible accent, and yet would feel out of place when i go to India, it makes me feel like there's nowhere I belong." But no?
He also texted me a picture of himself with an Indian American woman he's dating and said "If I hated my race so much why would I be with her?" I never said he hated his race? I have no idea where this is coming from.
Add to this that I am pretty sure he was drunk when he was texting me. We seem to have this pattern where he gets really drunk, and tells me all this really hateful stuff, and then I try to talk to him about it when he's sober, and nothing. He literally won't acknowledge anything bad was ever said and will just say 'I probably shouldn't drink.'
I actually thought our relationship had improved dramatically in recent years. We take trips together, we talk on the phone. I feel like he baited me with that "desi" article and I don't understand the desire to change my mind about racism. He can think whatever he wants, it doesn't affect me.
Also comparing me to my father - I love my father. He can be really difficult, but I don't have the raging hate my brother has for him. Sometimes I wonder if I should, but I honestly don't. Who knows how many years he has left, and I accept him as he is. He did the best he could, and you could do a lot worse for fathers, honestly. (My mother is still alive, but I haven't mentioned her because she wasn't part of this and is unflappable in her mood and love for her children. I know the arguments i've had with my brother upset her.) My brother thinks he is like my mother, unflappable and kind, and I am like my father, inflexible, crazy, and unwilling to change (where "change" means "be the sister I wish I had", which is, I don't even know).
TLDR and question time: I've kind of reached this point where I don't want to have a relationship with him anymore, at least not until he can have some kind of honest, sober conversation about why he seems to really hate me at a deep, visceral level. I was hard on him when he was hard on my parents and living with them and getting DUIs, but that was a long time ago and I've changed a ton since then.
If I tell him I'm angry, he'll say "you're just like Dad, so angry at the world." If I say I'm sad about it, same thing. I honestly cannot change my entire worldview so that people asking me "what's your ethnicity? you're so exotic" won't bother me at all and I won't ever discuss it with anyone or post interesting things about it on social media.
Do I write a letter? Ask him to see a therapist? See one with him? Go to Al Anon and just forget about having a rational relationship with my brother, ever?
My therapist says "talk to him" but I feel like that's hard due to everything above.
I think if you could ignore for now if it's weird or not that my brother and i try to have this close bond despite lots of reasons we should maybe just be estranged. If that's the answer that might be the answer but for various reasons, including cultural ones and what would make my parents happy, that's just not that easy right now.
I just feel this deep hatred from him, I don't really understand why, and i feel like it's about me as a person, things I fundamentally can't or won't change. In the past, he has criticized the way I sit, the way I talk, the things I eat and drink, facial expressions, just anything.