Brothers (& Me) by Donna Britt

Can a woman ever give too much? If you're a black woman ...

The book in one sentence: A black woman's honest self-examination of the impact of her brother's death on her life.   

Serious synopsis: Donna Britt has always been surrounded by men--her father, three brothers, two husbands, three sons, countless friends. She learned to give to them at an early age. But after her beloved brother Darrell's senseless killing by police 30 years ago, she began giving more, unconsciously seeking to help other men the way she couldn't help Darrell.

Brothers (& Me) navigates Britt's life through her relationships with men-resulting in a tender, funny and heartbreaking exploration of universal issues of gender and race. It asks: Why, for so long, did Britt --like millions of seemingly self-aware women--rarely put herself first? With attuned storytelling and hard-wrought introspection, Britt finds that even the sharpest woman may need reminding that giving to others requires giving to oneself.

My two cents 

This is a book about being a woman and women's relationships with men. Now it is one thing to be a woman. It is another thing to be a black woman in America today.

Women can tell you about ceilings. How absorbing they can be when your spine is smashed under the weight of a man -- a man you love, or tolerate, or don't even know, but who you wish was was anywhere but inside you.
-p. 85, Brothers (& Me) by Donna Britt

This is a beautifully honest and painful read. Britt's memoir has no filters which makes it heartbreakingly raw that it made me uncomfortable, even embarrassed many, many times. How many of us can be that honest in our writing, or even in our thoughts? It is an unedited exploration of her thoughts, her motivations, her deep-seated feelings, even her grudges. Somehow I feel like I almost know her, or could be her -- because shade of me, of woman, is everywhere in her writing.
Britt examines her entire life, documenting how she felt and what she thought, as a black woman - through what she believed as a privileged childhood, her awkward adolescence, to the pivotal moment when her brother Darrel was killed, her various relationships, her marriage and her children, and her career as a journalist.

Haunted by the circumstances by which Darrell was killed at the hands of two white police officers in racially heated Indiana, Britt weaves a rather blatant commentary of womanhood and the sacrifices that a woman make for the men in her life, highlighting how African-American women in particular statistically have the short end of the stick. She expresses this dichotomy of woman and race thus: 

Any black woman can tell you: Our kids aren't the only one ho surreptitiously burrow inside us. So do our men.

Yet so much has been written about the tensions that divide black men and women, it's easy to overlook what unites us. Ours is a dance of mutual  affection and hostility, dependence and distrust, fascination and resentment. This push-pull dynamic has forged a gap between African-American women and their men that yawns, shrinks, and yawns again. This breach contributes to 70 percent of black children being born to unmarried mothers -- and the vast majority of those babies having black fathers. Statistically, sisters are the least likely of all U.S. citizens to marry outside their race, though we're far less likely to be permanently linked to to our children's fathers.

As dismaying as such statistics are, and no matter how many beauty shop rants black women begin with the words "All brothers are dogs! we won't give up on black men. We won't let them be dragged into the night.
 p. 251-252, Brothers (& Me) by Donna Britt

Throughout, it is interesting how Britt deftly focuses her stories around the theme of her constant giving to the men in her life - her brothers, her lovers, her children. (The men are on full display, warts and all, within this memoir's pages, that I wonder if they are embarrassed at their stories being so public.) Britt examines why she does it, to the point of being resentful, and comes to a surprisingly obvious conclusion!

Her family life also comes under scrutiny. She traces the histories of her parents, gaining a better understanding of how their personalities and circumstances shaped her own. I can definitely relate to this - it is this cross-over from merely seeing our parents as parents to actual people that somehow defines a new phase in adult life.

Finally loved and protected, my mother allowed herself to wonder, Why didn't my mother want me?  [...] But mom was a child. A child's first, best reason for any mistreatment or lack of love is "something is wrong with me." Some children never believe anything else.


My brothers and I were the human correction fluid with which both Mom-Mommy (note mine: Britt's maternal grandmother) and our mother painted over the past. Mom bestowed on us the sheltered childhood that had eluded her; Mom-Mommy lavished on us everything she hadn't been able to give her own daughter. Without knowing it, my "perfect" grandmother taught m what could happen when a less-than-perfect parent didn't give her time, love, and attention to her child: Mom could happen. A lifelong sense of unworthiness could happen.

I learned well enough to know that when I had kids, I would never let it happen.

-p, 60-61, Brothers (& Me) by Donna Britt


I probably have over quoted in this review. So many passages leapt out to me. This book definitely spoke to me and will stay with me for a long time. I am in awe at Britt's writing and insights. I am glad that I had the opportunity to read this. (I won this book over at Freda's Voice. Thank you Freda!)

Verdict: An intensely personal memoir of a black woman's life of giving to the men in her life. Achingly honest and definitely a must-read!

First line: The moment I saw him, I wanted him. 

Last line: Or between.


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© guiltless readingMaira Gall