When my oldest brother Ben was a teenager, he'd thought he was black.
A lot of white dumbasses in the suburbs like his friend Kenny do this. Or as I used to call Kenny, MC Starbucks.
In my brownish-skinned brother Ben’s case, though, it was a little more complicated than MC Starbucks’ dumb fuck white boy fantasy.
After all, we’d grown up in pre-Benetton ad faux kumbaya, in the suburbs, in a pretty milquetoast area, before our father left us anyway.
Being Arab was kind of the same thing, I guess, to Ben.
Quite possibly, to our lantern jawed neighbor Ronald who was not only Episcopalian but also played both squash and tennis at the country club our father swore, on a million Korans, had discriminated against him when he was still married to our mother.
To which she’d angrily retort that maybe they just hadn’t liked you drunk-driving the goddamn golf carts; ever think of THAT?
Ben didn't go the whole baggy jeans and wife-beater, trailer trash, would-be rapper route.
He was more the hyper-educated, angry ersatz black kid.
He liked quoting Farrakhan, Malcolm X and Chuck D. He was really into Farrakhan. He was really, really into Malcolm X.
And he was really, really, really into Public Enemy.
At around age fourteen, Ben began classifying himself as a minority. Our mother never tired of screeching with derisive laughter about this.
"My direct, lineal ancestor captained the Mayflower, for God's sake! Your ancestral grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence, for God’s sake. Stop saying that you're a minority. And turn that music off."
She started suddenly.
"Did that rapper just say, 'Your mother has gold nipples?" she asked, alarmed.
“Cold,” Ben corrected her. “And I am a minority. You aren't. But I am.”
He looked over at me for support.
“We are,” he finished.
I was barely seven. What did I know?
I was still wetting the bed.
Our mother had already sent me to three shrinks and all they'd do was put me in a two-way mirrored room and watch me smash Barbie and Ken’s genitals against each other and then tell her that I needed more therapy; they weren’t sure if it was Normal Adolescent Anger or My Father’s Abandonment that was making me Act Out.
Even as a second grader, though, I knew this much: I was wetting my bed because things in our house were completely fucked up.
Ben knew, too.
Which was probably why he was listening to lyrics like, “Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane.” And songs like Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.
And actually identifying with them.
“You're white, Ben!” our mother yelled one day, over the sound of Chuck D raging about the pro-black radical mix and J. Edgar Hoover having King and X set up. “White! White! Not black. White!”
I looked at my brother.
I was too young to make tacit racial distinctions yet but I knew my colors from the rainbow grid in kindergarten.
And she was wrong. He wasn't white.
His skin, anyway.
“But he's kind of...brown,” I protested.
Our mother’s arm snaked out suddenly and she slapped me hard across the face.
"He's white!" she howled. "He's white! You're white! You're all white!"
Cheek smarting, I slunk off to my room where I ground Barbie and Ken's plastic non-existent genitals together, noting that their privates looked exactly the same and that their skin was a weird, inhuman orange color.
After what had just happened, this made me angry so I tore out most of Barbie's blonde hair and used it to strangulate Ken.
They continued smiling at me as I worked, their eyes flat and dead yet somehow mocking and their skin gleaming orange.
So I took off my underpants and used them to strangle Barbie, too. Then I jabbed holes in both of them with a number two pencil.
When I was done mutilating them, I shoved the happy couple under my bed where my mother found them two weeks later.
This led to yet another appointment with a new shrink.
After fighting with our mother for several minutes, Ben went upstairs and blasted It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back until she stormed into his room, yelling that she didn’t want to hear any more songs about something called cold lamping and drop that profanity, homie and Farrakhan being a prophet and John Wayne being a racist and besides, someone had just told her that one of the rappers he was listening to smoked crack-cocaine.
Ben explained to her that that was Flavor Flav and that Chuck D was God or maybe a king and that Flavor Flav was his jester and even though he was funny, he was the village idiot who spoke the truth about oppression and racism that the white majority didn't want to hear.
Our mother screamed that we were the white majority and that he better turn that noise down or she'd put all of his goddamn CD's in the microwave and set it to "Express Defrost"; then he'd really see what it was like to be oppressed.
Ben said that she’d better leave his CD’s alone or he’d run away from home and take me and Sai with him and that he was sending Chuck D a letter the next day and that Chuck D would understand because he was into Nation of Islam stuff and Yemen was close to Africa and so it was the same thing, kind of.
Then he lowered the volume.
Our mother went back to her room, argued loudly on the phone with the lawyer who was suing our father and finally yelled that if that Goddamn Drunken Cheater was on fire, she wouldn’t spit to put out the flames; she'd let him burn; she really would. And what's more, she'd enjoy watching.
Then she blasted "O Mio Babino Caro" and started throwing things in her room.
Later that night, prone above Barbie and Ken's twisted, mutilated bodies, I wet the bed.