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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

02 Mar 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is another book that made it's way onto my list via being a top rated book on Amazon. I am really glad that I decided to read it, because to be frank, the subject matter did not jump out at me as all that interesting. All I could tell from the title was that this was a book about a kid from the ghetto who went to the "Ivy League" and eventually dies. I knew nothing of how the story would actually unfold, nor how captivating the book would turn out to be.

I can't understand the situation that Robert Peace grew up in nor his state of mind when he made certain life decisions. It is fundamentally not possible to grasp certain details that go along with having the grow up in a bad neighborhood or have a father in prison for murder, for someone who grew up in an upper middle class suburb with very little familial strife. It is one of those situations, where the only thing to get as that you really don't get it and you never will. That being said, there was a lot of information in this book that helped bridge some of the gap in my understanding. More than anything, I was presented with information that I had never considered before or heard explained in a way that actually got through to me. One of these things had to do with the transition to a top tier, predominately white university for someone who grew up as Robert Peace did.

As was explained in the book, Newark, like many other urban centers, had experienced the so-called white flight before Rob Peace was born. This led to him growing up in a place where he was in the majority. I guess I never thought about it because there is an emphasis on white people as the majority overall, but this is only in the aggregate. Most locations are not as diverse as the aggregate statistics would lead us to believe, even though they are not all that diverse to begin with. Most places are dominated by a small number of ethnic groups, such that there is almost always a clear overwhelming majority. For example, where I grew up, the overwhelming majority of the population was white, followed by Asian, and then everyone else rounded out the long tail. I knew kids of all races, but honestly only a handful were not white. Rob Peace grew up in the same kind of neighborhood, only the majority was black, with maybe a handful of Latinos and white kids. Clearly our neighborhoods were nothing alike, but we both grew up in the majority within where we lived. However, when I went to college that didn't change. When Rob Peace went to college, he had to experience the reality of being in the minority for the first time.

That is not fair to say because most of the situation in Newark could be attributed to Rob being in the minority among the surrounding neighborhoods, but within his own area of East Orange, he could look around and be in the majority. This is one of the aspects that I suspect (and the author seemed to as well) made the transition to college for "under privileged" students extra hard. It is really the first time in many people's lives where they really feel the weight of minority/majority groups in their every day lives. Well at least that is probably true for the white kids. I suspect that most of the minority students get racism much more acutely than the liberal white kids trying to change something they don't really get in the first place.

I found it hard not to have many of the same feelings of the people around Rob about the decisions he made after Yale. It is so easy for me or anyone to view someone else's life, especially in hindsight, and know exactly why something was a bad decision. But clearly there was a lot more going on that I just can't even begin to fathom. Mainly this revolves around his decisions that seem crazy to me that he made in order to support those around him. He was dealing drugs for a lot of reasons, but I think the primary motivation was to be a provider, to be a man, to be depended upon. This is a difficult ideology for me to grasp, at least emotionally, but I get the sentiment. I get that one could feel this way and because of that they would make rash decisions. I understand the idea of wanting to protect certain aspects of life around you, especially when it relates to things you find important. However, I have never really felt that way personally about individual people per se. I think most people have a duty to provide for themselves on a day to day basis. I can understand helping someone out how and when you can, but I don't get sacrificing yourself to enable those around you who haven't cared for themselves. I do get going to war to protect the country as a whole which makes much more sense to me as that is not related to one or a few individuals. It is more philosophical than that.

Overall, I recommend reading this book. I think it is eye opening no matter what your background or point of view. I am sure some people would read it and see some kid who fell into the trap of easy money and got what comes to many who take that risk. I am sure others would read this and take it as an example of how the blight of poverty can be so all encompassing that it is nearly impossible to escape no matter how intelligent or educated one is. Personally, I saw a confused kid, not altogether different from myself, who made a few good choices and a few bad choices. Someone who had some bad shit in his life, who had a different morality and set of values, but at the end of the day, someone who was just trying to figure himself out. Bad shit happens to good people, bad shit happens to bad people, shit happens to everyone, sometimes it's the bed we make and sometimes it's dumb luck. I think this is a raw story that speaks more in how normal it all seemed to me. I took most of the story in stride, a simple recounting of facts, with a pretty clear path of decisions that were sometimes strange, but never outrageous when taken in context. I did want to reach through the pages and slap some sense into him every once and a while, but it was clear that this would never have worked on Robert Peace and I understand that mentality just as well too.


Category: book