A Life Foolishly Lived
I've never quite understood the whole racism thing. I grew up in suburbia, but in the part of town considered the black neighborhood. When I was younger black kids were no different from everyone else, and I was happy that way. It wasn't until middle school and my encounters with Joey that I became aware of a difference. I was young and impressionable, and totally bought into what anyone who would consider me "cool" was saying.
Joey was a 30-something-year-old quadriplegic man who lived near me. I was considered a nerd and felt desperate for guidance of some sort. Joey became my mentor. Before the accident that left him in a wheelchair, he was ...view middle of the document...
Before I knew it, I was doing the same. He convinced me to wear the flag shirt in school the day we watched "Roots" for Black History Month. We laughed when I told him about the reactions I got, and then he congratulated me with a beer and some vodka mixed with juice. I was happy as long as Joey thought I was cool.
The more of Joey I saw, the worse I became. I started talking in harsh ways about minorities, acting as if I were better just because of my skin color. I didn't understand what I was doing, I did it for the feeling of acceptance I got from Joey. I was like Joey's personal soldier, taking care of his lost youth while messing up my own. I didn't care who I made mad, or whose feelings I hurt.
Now that I was in with Joey, I could get other kids to help bring him more power over the suburbs. This is where Jeremy came in. We became friends in seventh grade. He was already racist, and Joey liked him immediately. He was a bad kid, and he convinced me to be even more hateful. Joey helped Jeremy get over his fear of having open conversations about blacks stealing scholarships and jobs. I would sit back and listen. I don't know if I ever agreed with what they were saying, but I was definitely a part of it.
Or maybe I wasn't. Maybe I had been paying attention, but never actually related to it, and that was why it was so easy to leave behind once I reached high school. Maybe I was just like those posers I'd made so much fun of the whole time I was in middle school. But whatever I was, I wouldn't be it for too long.
The summer before freshman year I met a girl at camp. I wish I could remember her name, but she had brown hair and was beautiful. She ended up dating another kid in my cabin which saddened me, but it wouldn't matter. What did matter was the music she introduced me to. Now, I believe that music does not make the man, but sometimes it helps. I was into metal and classic rock, but she had me listen to a band I had never heard of, Less Than Jake, and I instantly loved them. When I got home, I ran right out and bought "Pezcore," which I still listen to.
Less Than Jake was ska music that Joey didn't like at all. When I had him listen, he tried to make me take it out and throw it away. For the first time, I disobeyed him. I left it in knowing he would have to listen to it as long as I wanted. Even though this may not seem like a big deal, it sticks in my mind as the first step I took to living my life for me and not to impress some old man who felt sorry for himself.
I was no longer going to be Joey's pawn. Less Than Jake was totally against racism, which led me to look at the whole issue from a different perspective. I started reading literature about racism and its effects, and became angry with myself for being a part of it in any way. I felt ashamed for the things I'd said, what I had let myself represent, and, most of all, for not thinking for myself. I realized who I...