The Earliest Encounter With Racism I Can Remember

warning: this post contains profanity and offensive language. act accordingly.

During the 80’s I was into metal / rock bands. Metallica, Def Leopard, Montley Creu and the like. As I became a teenager, I got more into rap music. The early 90’s was a golden era for rap, with Dr Dre, the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, 2Pac and more all dropping their 1st or 2nd albums within 1-2 years of each other. In parallel, grunge music was washing over the country like a wave. Bringing this subculture into the mainstream were bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and, of course, Nirvana. I had groups of friends who were into rap and groups that were into grunge, but very few into both. These being the two dominant music scenes in the country at the time, if you were of a certain age, you mostly found yourself identifying with one or the other. I was decidedly in the rap camp, but I respected most of the grunge music I heard and owned a few cds.

As many know, yesterday was the anniversary of Kurt Cobains suicide. You didn’t need to be a devoted fan of Nirvana to understand the impact this event had on the youth in this country. Here was a famous, well liked and talented musician leading the musical charge for a musical revolution and the generation it represented. Throngs of youths idolized him and he was one of the biggest icons of an entire generation. He had given a voice to a lot of disenfranchised youth struggling to find their place in a post-Reagan world.

And like that, poof, he was gone.

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It was especially shocking because it was the first time people my age felt a real sense of loss outside of their personal lives. In fact, for many people, it was like losing a family member despite never even meeting him. The closest comparison I can come to for my parents is when JFK was shot. It’s not so much a sense of sadness, but a yearning for what could have been had they lived and the hope they represented.

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When I arrived at school the first day after the news broke, his death was THE topic of discussion. I distinctly remember a malaise surrounding everyone. When we all finally got together for lunch and were able to talk about things, I heard someone, whom I thought was a friend, say the strangest thing when I asked about the suicide:

It wasn’t a suicide. My dad says it was a bunch of black guys who killed him & made it look like one. I be all you wiggers couldn’t be happier.

record screeching…. Wait, what?

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here’s someone I thought was my friend, a guy like me, and he’s not only spouting off about his racist dad but simultaneously trying to denigrate me. As a kid of 13, I was really confused. That was first blatantly racist thing I’d heard anyone say around me, even without the second sentence. Even back then, I was happy-go-lucky and inclusive of everyone & everything, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe I was naive, but that’s ok. Unfortunately, others didn’t share my empathy and sense of inclusion. That’s when I learned a hard lesson: you can be as nice and inclusive to people as you want, but don’t assume the same in return. Needless to say, me and this guy didn’t hang out after that.

That’s why every year when his anniversary comes up and gets a lot of press, I don’t just think of the day a generation lost a idol. I think of the day that I realized there are some shitty, angry people in this world and no matter how I treat them, it’s not guaranteed to affect how they treat me. It’s a cruel lesson to learn. In the end, however, it makes me strive to devote my time & energy on people that enrich my life.