Prejudice Hurts

September 1, 2007
Jimmy Matthews was a seven year-old boy growing up in a small town just outside of Gulfport, Mississippi. His family had moved from New York City, two years earlier because of his dadÕs new job as a tractor salesman. Adjusting to the slow pace of small town life hadnÕt been easy for Jimmy. With his reputation in place as the stuck up new kid from the big cityÓ, getting to know the local children was hard and making real friends became almost impossible. Although it was difficult, Jimmy continued to make the best of his new situation. He tried hard to ignore the problems that he immediately recognized in Mississippi folk; the almost fake sounding, but incessant drawl in everyoneÕs dialect, everyoneÕs need to rephrase his question with a different question and the inordinate amount of time it took to order and actually receive the hamburger the local grub hub. Instead of focusing on the negatives, Jimmy thought it prudent to rely on his passion for reading comic books to avoid the feelings of loneliness he experienced when he was not in school.
Jimmy had always been an avid reader of comic books, since he was old enough to read. He began reading the funnies in the Sunday newspaper as he and his father brunched on bagels and lox. Once his dad realized how enamored he was with the comics, he took him to a local bookstore and bought him his first comic book, The Adventures of the Mighty Five. It didnÕt take long before Jimmy was hooked on the Adventure series. He and his dad made time every weekend to head on down to the bookstore and purchase the latest issue as soon as it hit the stands. It wasnÕt enough for Jimmy to buy each one; he had to be the first among his friends to read it so that he could discuss it with his friends in school the next day. When his family moved to Mississippi, one of the first requests Jimmy made was to go to the local five and dime to make sure that they have The Adventure Five comics. When he discovered that they did not, he begged the storeowner, Mr. Johnson, to order a subscription just for him. He assured Mr. Johnson that, once the other kids start reading the Adventure Five, he would have lots of new customers for the comic book. Mr. Johnson felt sorry for the new kidÓ and told Jimmy, listen here boy, IÕm not sure that the youngins in this part have time to be readinÕ this here stuff, but IÕll git you a copy if you promise to buy it every week.Ó Now every Thursday, on his way home from school, Jimmy would stop at the local five and dime, pop open a root beer and chat with Mr. Johnson, anticipating the UPS truck and the delivery of his latest issue of the Adventure Five.
Once he bought the comic, Jimmy would take it over to the lake and sit under his favorite oak tree while he devoured the latest issue. Jimmy felt most comfortable by the lake, soothed by the sound of the rippling water, protected by the shade of the oak tree that covered him like his favorite baby blanket. The best part of being by the lake was the solitude he experienced as he read his favorite comic. However, on this particular day, Jimmy quickly realized that solitude would be a tall order to fill. As he approached the lake, Jimmy noticed that all of his classmates were swimming in his lake, after diving off branches of his favorite oak tree. As he approached, he felt like someone had poked a hole in his favorite balloon. He remembered that it was William WhiteÕs birthday and that he declined the invitation to the party at the lake. As he approached, he felt like a cat in a dog pound and wanted to turn around and walk away without being spotted. Unfortunately, he had gone too far, and it was too late to make a clean break. William had noticed Jimmy walking toward them and yelled toward him hey, I thought you had to help your momma shampoo the horses today? ItÕs great you made it!Ó Jimmy felt a little apprehensive, but decided that joining them at this point would be a lot better than running away. Jimmy yelled back, Yeah, my mom said she didnÕt need my help today, and you told me it would be okay to just show up.Ó As Jimmy came closer to William and Thomas, the boys noticed the comic book in JimmyÕs hand. WhatÕs in your hand? YaÕ didnÕt need to bring me a present!Ó Jimmy had no choice but to hand over his prized possession to William. Reluctantly, he wished William a happy birthday and handed over his best friend to his worst nightmare.

Jimmy tried to convey the huge impact of what he had just done, as he explained to William and the other boys that he had been reading this comic book since he was four years old. Jimmy briefly described to an unimpressed audience how the Adventure Five were a group of Chinese Superheroes hired by the U.S. government to help spy on China. He went on about how he loved all of the international espionage and how, each week, he couldnÕt wait to travel with the FiveÓ on their latest adventure. William and Thomas, distracted by the laughter in the lake, tried to listen carefully as Jimmy went on excitedly. At the end of the dissertation, with one eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other, Thomas asked Jimmy why on earth would you like readinÕ ‘bout some Chinese fellows, canÕt you just read ‘bout white folk like us?Ó Jimmy, incensed by the lack of appreciation toward his grand gesture, sensed that the William and Thomas were bothered by his reading preference. He was a bit concerned with their assumption that normal superheroes should be white, and more than a bit concerned that he had just given what might possibly be the last copy of his comic book to someone who will probably throw it in the trash. Jimmy stayed at the party for a short eternity, to avoid being rude. He wished William a happy birthday again, made up a second round of lame excuses and sprinted back to the five and dime in hopes that Mr. Johnson had another copy of this Adventure Five issue.
As luck would have it, there were another nine copies waiting for Jimmy at the five and dime. Mr. Johnson chuckled as he told Jimmy, CanÕt buy just one, they only sell me ten at a time.Ó Jimmy, having no time for any additional pleasantries, plunked down the money and went straight home. Feeling satisfied after finishing this issue, JimmyÕs joy was not complete. He was still bothered by the boysÕ reaction to his comic book. In all this time that he had been reading the Adventure Five, he had never stopped to consider whether a Chinese man was capable of being a superhero. JimmyÕs parents had always raised him to believe that anyone, male or female, from any race, religion or country, was capable of being and accomplishing anything they wanted. Over dinner conversation, Jimmy was so upset that he asked his parents why they thought the boys would be bothered by Chinese superheroes. Why do the other kids care what type of superhero I like reading about?Ó and why does it matter to them if IÕm reading read about Chinese superheroes and not white American ones?Ó JimmyÕs mom and dad explained to him that sometimes people are caught off guard when reality is different from their expectations. These people living in a small town like Gulfport are lovely people, but they do not get much of an opportunity to become acquainted with Chinese people. ThatÕs probably why they are having trouble identifying with a hero that is different than they are.Ó Jimmy began to understand that if William and Thomas had grown up in New York City where all types of people from different races and nationalities live together, they would have an easier time accepting a hero that is different then they are. Jimmy understood that growing up in the big cityÓ had its advantages and that one of those advantages was accepting people for who they are and not focusing on their differences. Jimmy also understood why growing up in the big cityÓ made him different than the other kids in Gulfport and realized why it had been so difficult for him to make new friends.
The next day, Jimmy went into school with his comic book in hand and walked over to his teacher, Mrs. Clark. Jimmy explained to Mrs. Clark what had happened at WilliamÕs party, and she allowed him to speak to his classmates. Jimmy was nervous but he gathered the courage to tell his classmates all of the things that he learned about living in the big cityÓ and how it was an adventure to always be surrounded by people who were different than him. Jimmy was happy when his new friends announced that reading about Chinese people could probably be way cool!Ó The following Thursday, Jimmy and his newfound friends were happy as a pig in a dirty pen as they headed to the lake to read the latest issue of the Adventure Five.

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