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“Fencing has aristocratic roots. But you belong here. We all do,” Coach Arden Jones. —Black Brother, Black Brother
Black Brother, Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
AR Test, Diverse Characters, Must Read
Donte is black, and the white kids at Middlefield Prep won’t let him forget it. They especially won’t let him forget that they like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey, more than Donte. To make matters worse, the administration turns a blind eye when the students harass Donte. When Donte gets bullied and arrested for something he didn’t do, he feels immensely frustrated and helpless.
Then Donte meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Jones begins to train Donte to take on his main bully: the Middlefield Prep fencing captain, Alan. With support from his friends, family, and the folks at the youth center, Donte begins to unpack the systemic racism that has sought to hold him down all his life.
Through Donte and his family’s eyes, Black Brother, Black Brother tackles systemic racism head-on. Jewell Parker Rhodes shows a range of characters including those who willingly ignore the racism, those who show microaggressions, and finally those who are outright racist like Alan. This book is unflinchingly honest in how it deals with how others treat Donte differently than his brother Trey, who has lighter skin. Even the police treat their father, a white man, differently than their mother, a black woman. These experiences are presented openly and honestly, and in a way, that younger readers will be able to understand.
Donte and the other characters are fully fleshed-out people. Donte and Trey’s relationship shows their solidarity and brotherly love as well as the moments where Donte feels insecure around his older, more popular brother. Their relationship with their parents is also lovely, as they are protective of their sons.
The local Boys and Girls Club has a wide range of characters who bring life to the story. The most prominent of these characters is Donte’s coach, former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. Arden helps Donte grapple with the patience and fortitude required in fencing and in life. Arden’s personal experiences and frustrations show Donte how to conduct himself, and by the end, Donte is an excellent fencer who isn’t afraid to stand up for himself.
Black Brother, Black Brother is an important book that illustrates how racism operates on many levels, and how deeply it affects people of all ages. While this book will appeal to people who like fencing, it is a must-read for all people of any age. Through Donte’s experiences, readers will learn about people from various walks of life and the importance of individual courage. Donte may not be real, but he is certainly not the first nor the last student to be judged on the basis of race when he and every other student should be judged based on the content of their character.
- Donte meets twins Zarra and Zion. Donte says, “Zarra’s beautiful. First time I ever thought that about a girl. Deep brown eyes. A wide smile. Glowing black skin. I can’t think of anything to say. Not even my name.”
- A few girls at school wave at Donte. Trey jokingly says, “Got game, little brother. Girls are going to be calling you.” Donte thinks, “Problem is I won’t know if they like me for me. Or because they like Trey. (Zarra would like me for me.)”
- When Trey meets Zarra, Donte says, “My brother smiles goofily. I groan. He thinks Zarra’s beautiful, too. If he becomes a competition, I’ll lose.”
- Donte says that one of the girls from school, “has a crush on Trey. (She knows I know.) Trey hasn’t figured it out yet.”
- Another student threw a pencil in class and “it hits Samantha. Donte didn’t throw it, but Ms. Wilson turns from the whiteboard and looks at [Donte] anyway.”
- At his very white private school, Donte is subjected to plenty of racist words and actions. For instance, Donte’s brother Trey is white-passing, so other students mock Donte by calling him “Black brother.”
- Donte experiences microaggressions from his peers and adults in his life. Donte describes, “Of all the kids in the school, the police found it easy to arrest me. Why was Mrs. Kay scared? Why did Mr. Waters seem to enjoy my troubles? Worse, why did Headmaster call the police on me? Since I’ve been at Middlefield, the police never came for anyone else. Is something wrong with me?”
- Donte’s mom notes some real-life stories of police brutality against black people. She says, “Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun, killed. Twelve and he’s dead.”
- Donte describes a video he sees, saying, “there was a video loop of a school officer pulling a girl from her desk, slamming, dragging her across the floor.”
- Donte and Trey play-wrestle in the kitchen. Donte describes, “I shove Trey. Rebalancing, his hand swipes and the milk falls to the floor. Trey shoves back. I clutch his waist. He pushes back, clasps me around my back. We wrestle. Our shoes slip. Trey’s long leg sweeps behind my knee. I fall. My shirt soaks up milk.” This lasts for about a page.
- The boys’ fencing team knocks Donte down. Donte describes, “I fall flat on my face. Each teammate gets a dig, a stomp, a step on me. Trey is flailing, trying to shove them away.”
- In the seventies, another fencer on Coach’s Olympic team, Jonathan Michael, harassed Coach for being black. Coach describes, “Michael bullied me. Called me terrible names. Threatened me. He’d convince Coach I’d broken curfew even when I hadn’t. Convince teammates everything went wrong because of me.”
- Alan trips Donte. Donte says, “My mask rolls forward. I drop my foil trying to break my fall. A painful shock sears my wrist.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- After being tripped and hurting his wrist, Donte asks for Advil.
- The captain of the fencing team, Alan, “says ‘black’ like a slur. Says it real nasty. Like a worse word. A word he thinks but doesn’t dare say.”
- Donte’s mom tells Donte, “Take off your hoodie. People might think you’re a thug.”
- Inappropriate language is occasionally used. Words include: nuts and stupid.
- During a fencing match, Alan yells, “Hey, black girl!” at Zarra.
- Another fencer, Jonathan Michael, says some very rude things to Coach while Donte and another young fencer watch. Michael’s young fencer tries to shake hands with Coach, but Michael bats the kid’s hand away. Michael then says, “You don’t shake hands with someone dishonorable.”
- Someone leaves a note for Trey. Donte sees the first part that says, “Why play with…” but he doesn’t look at the rest because, as he says, “I don’t want to see a hateful word.”
- Donte is black and experiences discrimination at his private school where most of the other students are white. Because of this, Donte wishes that he “were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring.”
- Zarra brings in books about women in fencing. She mentions that in the 2016 Olympics, a woman named Ibtihaj Muhammad won team bronze, and that “she’s a Muslim American and fences in a hijab.”
by Alli Kestler