It was March of 1994 and Peter Slate was dancing at a nightclub on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. According to witnesses, Slate, who was biracial, was dancing with a white woman when a white man confronted him, leading to a brief argument before another white man smashed a beer bottle against Slate’s head, leaving him bloodied and missing an eye.
Peter Slate passed away in a car accident in 2003, but his younger brother Nico Slate recently published a book, “Brothers: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Race,” examining the events of that night, the effects they had on his brother’s life and his own and the role that race played in all of it.
While the Slate brothers shared a white mother, they had different fathers, with Peter’s being Black and Nico’s being white.
“I came to realize that there’s a lot of layers to what happened that night, but I still continue to feel that if my brother had looked like me, he very well might have left that club with both of his eyes,” Slate said. “Understanding what happened that night is really at the core of the book.”
Nico Slate, who is now the Head of the History Department and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said his brother’s life greatly shaped the trajectory of his career.
“I study the history of the struggle against racism, the Civil Rights Movement here in the US and also other similar struggles in India and elsewhere,” he said. “I do that, I think, largely because I saw the impact of racism in my brother’s life.”
He said that the book presents a nuanced view of race-related issues in the United States, that he hopes helps readers understand the persistence, weight and severity of racism in the country but also see reasons for hope and the potential for change.
“I hope that readers will be able to hold on to two ideas at the same time that can sometimes be in tension with each other, but I think they’re both true: one of them is that racism is still a huge problem in our society and yet at the same time, there are many, many individuals and families that are able to love across racial divides,” he said.
He added that he also hopes the book shows and honors the person who his brother was. Neither of the brothers’ fathers were present in their lives and Nico said that Peter, who was seven years older, took on that role for him.
“He was the greatest big brother you could imagine,” he said. “He took it very seriously because he didn’t have a father either and so he really put a lot of himself into being a father figure for me… he was able to love me for who I was, and yet at the same time, believe in my future and he would push me and challenge me but still, ultimately, I always knew that he loved me and that combination was foundational to my entire childhood.”
Slate said that his decision to write the memoir arose out of a desire for his children to feel connected to their uncle, who Slate said inspired him to want to be a father, but who they never got the chance to meet.
“I always knew I wanted to be a father because I had such a positive relationship with my brother and it shaped how I am with my own children now…” he said. “I realized that I really wanted my children to know their uncle better and so I started to research his life, starting with that night in Santa Monica.”
While the memoir’s official release date is May 12, it is currently available to order online.
To learn more and purchase a copy visit: https://nicoslate.com/books/