Mixed Messages: On Bi-Racial Siblings

by Special Correspondent Fatemah Fakhraie

My brother likes to push my buttons. When I bring up women’s issues, he tells me to get back to the kitchen. When I bring up Iranian culture, he cracks jokes in a fakey Middle Eastern accent.

I love him anyway.

We’re pretty close. We look alike, family members often confuse our voices on the phone, and we crack jokes to keep each other entertained when things get tense or boring. I feel very blessed to have him, and to have the relationship that we do.

Since high school, I have been striving to reconnect with my Iranian and Muslim identities; he hasn’t shown the same inclination. This isn’t to say that he’s remained the same person since high school: he and his interests have developed and evolved, but they have not done so in a direction that seeks to connect with this half of his ethnic identity. He is just as Iranian as I am in his biological makeup, but his identification doesn’t mirror mine.

When we talk about where our lives are going and what we aspire to, he shows astonishment at my life. “You’re not where I thought you’d be,” he says with an incredulous tone that belies some sort of disappointment. “I always envisioned you somewhere else.”

Which always confuses me. Where else am I supposed to be? Yes, I slowly extinguished my lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer (stop giggling!), but I don’t feel like I drastically changed who I was when I set new professional goals for myself.  “I always pictured you in pantsuits, very professional,” he confessed.

“What the hell?” I thought to myself. “I have a closet full of pantsuit separates! That is who I am!”

I realized that it wasn’t I who had changed; it was his perception of me. Since openly constructing and defining myself under the labels of “Iranian” and “Muslim,” those were the only things my brother seemed to see, which is why I felt so puzzling, so foreign to him. And, indeed, those were the things he always expressed so much confusion about and argued with me about the most.

 “You’re the one that got all the ‘culture,’” he says to me. So that’s it, then: I’m the Iranian one and he’s the “white” one. He feels it, too. Since I was the one who shows the most effort in “being” Iranian, I am the Iranian one. His lack of interest seems to automatically make him unmarked as Iranian, or “white.” (For the purpose of this essay, I’m setting aside the idea that many Middle Eastern people define themselves as white).

The idea that one child is more inclined to a certain ethnic identity and the other is less so interests me. Do any bi- or multi-racial readers find this to be true in their familial relationships? How would this idea play out among several children instead of just two?

As for my brother and I: though we’ve both felt that we occupied different (but somehow complementary) ethnic identities for quite some time, the realization that my ethnic and religious identities have served as an obstacle for my brother is new.

Since it’s the ethnic and religious identities that he gets stuck on, I worry that his perception of these identities (and thus me) is clouded by stereotypes and inaccuracies. I’m not really sure where to go from here. How do you normalize yourself to your own blood?