My family scraped tooth-and-nail to send me to an out-of-state, private college that costs over $40,000 a year.
I just graduated, and now they pick my brain when we talk, as if testing me or trying to validate their investment. I know I received an invaluable education — even if I still haven’t found a job — but I find myself wondering if my own intellectual growth has made me a more valuable citizen. Recent events have brought into question whether or not I’ve returned home a better Hoosier than before.
Last weekend, I sat on the front porch of my parents’ new house in Broad Ripple, talking to a close family friend who never attended college. We talked about film — one of my focuses of study — and he listened intently. I told him I had just seen Cinderella Man, the new Ron Howard boxing bio about James Braddock. As an avid boxing fan, and an amateur historian of the sport, I said I hated the way the film vilified Braddock’s most formidable adversary, Max Baer, for the sake of Hollywood formula.
Baer was a bold Jewish boxer in an era when anti-Semitism ran rampant. He wore a huge Star of David on his trunks, a detail Howard obscures, among other cut corners that portray Baer as a quintessential antagonist. The real Baer killed a man in the ring and it caused him tremendous inner turmoil. He lost four of his next six fights and clowned around all the while out of fear of fighting with all his fury and slaughtering another opponent. Howard, however, portrays Baer as wicked, cocky and unremorseful to provide a more entertaining and conventional foil to his good-guy Irish protagonist.
“You know what, I’m sick of the Jews,” our family friend told me after I explained my view of the film. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re not even a minority anymore. They control every industry and all they do is complain. It’s bullshit.”
I hadn’t heard ignorance of this magnitude during my college days. It caused something to burn in my brain and my hot head disallowed me to articulate one of the thousand responses I should’ve offered. All I did was shrug it off, agitated, and politely excuse myself.
I met my friend Daniel at a bar in Broad Ripple and we had some drinks, but our spirits weren’t as high as the weekend crowd, so we walked back to my place and talked as we sat on the front porch. It was late and loads of drunken people got in their cars, parked on my street, and drove away. One started to swerve away but stopped, got out and took a piss in the middle of the road. He peed for a solid minute and a half before he got back behind the wheel and drove off. I didn’t do anything to stop him.
Only minutes later, three black guys walked down the sidewalk towards their car and crossed paths with a stumbling shirtless redneck. I didn’t hear exactly what was said, but I could tell the black guys were offended. One of them looked poised to punch the redneck before his friends held him back, and the redneck stumbled away.
“Fuck white people man, it ain’t worth it,” one of the black guys whispered to the others when he thought they were alone. It made me sad.
They got in their car and left and only moments later the redneck came back with a look of confidence, as though he now had a concealed weapon.
“You see any niggers around here?” he yelled to a couple across the street. “Any niggers tryin’ to beat my ass?”
“Should we jump him?” I asked Daniel. I was fed up, and if I couldn’t literally teach this guy a lesson, I wanted to beat the shit out of him in hopes of achieving the same objective.
“Fuck it. He’s ignorant,” Daniel replied, and we didn’t do anything.
As though the night couldn’t get any crazier, a group of three people, including one wasted woman, tried to steal my mother’s car parked in front of our house. I confronted them and we almost got into a fight.
The only time I took a stand the entire night was when it threatened me personally — or my family’s property. Everything else passed over me as if I wasn’t even there.
Taking an intellectual high road is no excuse. Though Daniel was right when he called the redneck “ignorant,” it accomplished nothing for us to shrug him off the same way I did with our anti-Semitic family friend. Ignorance breeds ignorance, and without intervention we’re only digging ourselves into a deeper hole.
The events I’ve just described aren’t fiction. This actually happened here on the Northside of Indianapolis, and on the Southside five white supremacists incinerated a home to keep a black family from moving in.
I have a first-rate education, but has it made me a better citizen since I’ve been back in Indiana? Sitting on the sidelines, have I made a difference? I’ve learned this week that we can no longer afford to sit down, afraid to stand up. As a Hoosier, this isn’t the home I remember.
It’s time to get up off my new front porch.