In the Afterword to Black Brother, Black Brother Parker Rhodes states: ‘I felt compelled to explore both racism and colourism affecting two biracial brothers.’ Donte and Trey are brothers but Donte has much darker skin than Trey and his life at school and elsewhere is more difficult as a result. The book opens with Donte explaining to his Head Teacher his frustrations at the way he is treated by staff and students alike. He stands accused of throwing a pencil at a female student. Even though the pencil was thrown by his nemesis, the school bully, Alan. nevertheless it is Donte who is arrested and taken to jail and it is only through the actions of his white father, a war veteran and his black mother, a lawyer, that he is released pending his court hearing.
He is suspended from school for a week and his rage and isolation are magnified by the attitude of pupils and staff towards Trey : his light skin, blonde hair and sporting prowess make him a favourite but his love for his brother makes him both protective and therefore vulnerable. He is determined to help Donte to avenge himself on Alan through the only sport Alan cares about: fencing. He gives Donte a magazine article which leads him to a former Olympian fencer, Arden Jones, black like Donte but running an after-school sports club for poorer children instead of being recognised for all he achieved. He agrees to coach Donte.
As his training begins Donte realises that he has real talent, which Jones takes time and trouble to nurture. There are many descriptions of fencing moves and training strategies but Rhodes usue these to demonstrate the prejudice which both Jones and Donte have fallen foul of and the qualities and skills they need in order to overcome racism from staff and students, sporting bodies and a society which believes that black stereotypes are true. ‘Fencing is life. The battle is always centred in the self.’ Donte’s internal narratives contemplate the issues which black people are constantly beset by and thus raise awareness of prejudice.
Donte defeats Alan by applying all the inner creeds of fencing: physical prowess; mental stability and control; achieving the greatness which comes from blending mind and body, focusing on your mind guiding the blade. These are the qualities which will make him stronger against the inevitable racism he has to bear. Black Brother, Black Brother – the title taken from the jeers which Donte has had to bear at school – is an intelligent, informed book: one family’s achievement shot through with the history of previous generations. It hits hard and true.