Brothers and Keepers

by John Edgar Wideman

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman is an emotional and thought-provoking memoir that speaks to the realities of the racism that is rooted in the very foundation of the United States. This memoir details John's struggle to separate himself from the realities of racism as a black man living in America and the process through which he comes to terms with these realities via visits to his incarcerated brother.

John does not want to see his existence as a black man in America as an obstacle to his success. Racism has not directly, materially affected John's life in the ways that it has affected his bother's life. But John realizes that being a "success" in spite of a systemic occurrence means that he cannot simply ignore the fact that racism directly negatively impacts the lives of so many other black people living in his country, including the life of his brother, who must deal with the loss of his freedom. John realizes that, although he may try to run from the realities of racism, his connection to his brother, Robert, means that he can not truly escape this reality. This means that he can either attempt to ignore what exists all around him or confront the realities of the racism that continues to be a foundational aspect of the society in which he lives.

John chooses to confront this reality by visiting his brother, and he gains the insight that as long as his brother is not free, he cannot honestly say that racism does not affect his life. John realizes that he and his brother share many overlapping realities, even though their material living conditions are very different. They both share anger and the feelings of disempowerment forced on them by a system that has been set up to oppress them and uphold white supremacy.

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