Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace hit upon almost all the intellectual struggles I have with education as a scholar of color.  This doesn't mean every person of color will relate to this book, and it doesn't mean that White people can't relate to the book either.

It is really a book anyone should read, but the themes covered:
  • Alienation from the dominant culture in an educational institution
  • Bifurcating one's life to handle a life in two worlds
  • What does success mean?
       are themes that many people of color in academia can relate to specifically.  

Robert Peace was a brilliant Science student, who earned a full scholarship to Yale University.  He graduated and seemed to have everything going for him.

This book tells the story of his family background, his upbringing, his education, his post-education decisions and his untimely death.  Rob's story is told from his White-upper middle class roommate's perspective.  

Rob peace went to Yale,dealt cannabis throughout his stay at Yale, graduated and then went back to life in Newark New Jersey, selling weed, teaching, working at the airport and inventing new strains of marijuana.  This book claims he invented the famous Sour Diesel strain of cannabis.  The conundrum this book addresses and is stuck on is:  How could a kid, who had so much going for him, fuck up so bad and get murdered?   

The writing is mediocre, but the story is something that is gripping and I believe happens much more than people speak about.  Alienation, and a turn away from the "gifts" that are  bestowed upon this "blessed" and "unusual" person.

[Writing in blue below are my personal observations.]

Sometimes, the supposed gifted ones, know people who are as smart, or smarter than them.  These people use their smarts to survive and to make money.  When one is lauded, and knows others who are smarter, who are rotting in jail, or dead, or addicted to drugs,  then the gifts that one is bestowed with don't mean as much to you as to those who are giving the gifts.  

Why couldn't he break away from his former neighborhood and the life there?

When I was an undergrad, I came to realize that the inner workings and business deals on the street level were not any different than those business deals and workings of "legitimate" businesses.  The legitimate business dealings, were far larger and impacted far more people than street level deals, or even big dealer deals, but they are fundamentally the same.  I realized that the drug trade was unfettered capitalism.   

Why didn't he plan something after college?

I couldn't plan anything in college either, not because I was unmotivated, but because I was so focused on getting my degree and having to accomplish this completely by myself--it was all I could do to graduate Cum Laude.  People who are in college as first generation students need more support and more advising than those who are not first generation.  First generation people don't have the support system that many other college students have.  

One can be academically successful and NOT hold the same values as their educational institutions.   The scene where Rob was confronted by the authorities at Yale for selling weed at school, and him not getting in trouble.  And his continued sales even after the confrontation with his administration.  Rob knew he was being used as a token, and knew they would not prosecute him, nor even punish him--it would look bad.  This is my take on it at least.  It also shows that Rob was not your stereotypical "successful" minority scholar, who doesn't smoke weed, believes in Jesus and doesn't own guns.  

Survivor guilt?  I am not claiming that Rob Peace had survivor guilt, but this is something that has bothered me forever.  How come I am alive, free, educated and employed?  While others, who are far smarter than me, far greater than me in many respects, are locked up in prison, dead, or drugged out?

This book bothered me in many ways:

  • The author is White and doesn't really know Ethnic Minority culture in the US.
  • The author imposes many people's desires for Rob, but doesn't know Rob's desires enough. 
  • The author is a mediocre writer and bums me out on Yale's creative writing program.
  • I was constantly wondering if the author was going to split his profits with Rob's mother.
  • The author didn't show enough redeeming qualities about people from the hood.

I would recommend this book for all HS seniors and incoming freshmen of color because it may help them sort out what success means to them.  I would have a  discussion with them about what it means that the author is White though--what it means to the story and how the author's class impacts his understanding of Rob, his family, his neighborhood and his values.  

Available Hardcover – September 23, 2014  

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147673190X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476731902
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.4 x 1 inches


Anonymous said...

Great post on this. I just finished reading the book and found it incredibly unsettling -- the writing was definitely mediocre but I had an incredible amount of empathy for Rob and was devastated by his death at the end (even knowing it was coming), so either the story on its own was incredibly poignant no matter who told it, or the writer at least did that part well.

The story aside, I feel like there is something very strange and maybe even wrong in white writers using the unbelievably depressing stories of poor black Americans to make a name for themselves in the literary world. I really hope he splits the profits with Jackie Peace.

Anonymous said...

I just finished the book for my book group. I found the whole project clouded with assumptions about race, Newark, the tragic lives of the Roberts of this world, the effort to make his story emblematic of people of color who don't fulfill the possibilities of their education, and on and on. It seemed sincere; which is even more depressing. The author hasn't looked at himself carefully.

Max Macias said...

I think you expressed the issues with the book I feel most eloquently--thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading the book and i'm more than half way done with it. I think Jeff did a great job with this book and I think If Jeff didn't write the book then we wouldn't know about Rob's story. If anything, I think Jeff added more positive energy in Rob's legacy than negative. After Rob was killed, the press painted a negative picture of Rob and the book clearly dispels those negative perceptions. Rob was indeed brilliant, but was lost in his journey to success. If you reread parts of the book, you can already tell that his brilliance was deteriorating and I don't know if it's because he lost his edge from attending Yale or if the weed clouded his judgement. For example
1) He entrusted his uncle with over 100,000 cash
2) Instead of depositing his clean money into the bank he kept it inside a locked brief case, which resulted to getting it stolen by his uncle
3) Instead of selling his weed in college campuses he endangered himself by selling weed in the streets
4) Instead of analyzing the mortgage and the rate of interest he entrusted his friend and took the loan
5) Instead of finding a job at a biotech company making 60k or more he stayed in Newark NJ as a high school teacher/ air flight attendant
6) Instead of setting goals he became more of a drifter and ran with the wind
7) Instead of being around people that could cultivate his talent and skills, he surrounded himself with people who were less intellectually stimulating
8) Often i noticed throughout the book, a behavioral aspect of Rob of becoming too careless. For example he was fighting with a hood dude that told him to get out of his house party, rocking a jacket that easily made Rob a mark, selling weed in his college room, and etc. In alot of ways, Rob became to complacent and he couldn't figure out his next move. I think Jackie was the gas to his vehicle because she pushed him throughout elementary and high school and he excelled tremendously, but i think once he entered college, she let go of him ( a natural aspect of growing up). At that point, Rob started to lose direction and focus. I think he forgot why he came to Yale and was more immersed in the details of being a Yalie instead of looking at the big picture of being a yale graduate and the intrinsic value it brings in the working world. Rob could have easily made 60k if he had networked and stayed focused. If he could get a guy to pay for his Yale education, I'm sure he had the potential to make money out of college legitimately. I think he just lost his way and ultimately lost his edge. Vito Corelone in Godfather pt 1 said, "Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men". I think Rob became careless in his journey

Anonymous said...

It didn't say he invented it, it said he made hash oil and put it on lesser quality weed. However it did say he got his Sour Diesel cuttings from the Emerald Triangle in California.

Max Macias said...

Thanks Anonymous!


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