I vaguely remember this, but I think I got the basic story right.
It was sometime in Junior High. Maybe grade seven. We came to school that day to find swastikas markered on several surfaces of the building. I can’t exactly remember where, but I do remember one on the red brick exterior wall near the front entrance. It was pretty amateur, like the offender drew it quickly and then ran off to avoid capture. But it was powerful.
The thin black lines of that crooked cross really captured a raw, brutal sort of hatred.
Rumour quickly went around that the perp was, in fact, Stanley. Of course, that’s not his real name, but that’s what you’re going to get because Stanley was my friend, and if I saw him again today he’d still be nothing less than that: A really good friend.
I suppose an explanation is in order.
In my province, Elementary ran from grades four to six. Junior High started at seventh and went till ninth. I met Stanley sometime during elementary school.
When I met Stanley, I was immediately drawn to his style. I guess you could say he was a punk, but a zenlike stillness surrounded this rebel. Something about him suggested that he was wiser than the rest of us, like he’d seen the world beyond childhood, so he was just going through the motions till he could finally grow into himself. Don’t get me wrong though, Stanley wasn’t a snob. Quite the opposite: To those who were brave enough to approach him, the guy was sincerely kind.
In grade five, Stanley introduced me to Metallica and Greenday by slipping me my first mixtape cassette:
- Side A – tracks from Metallica’s “Black Album”
- Side B – tracks from Green Day’s newly released album, “Dookie.”
Up to that point, I don’t think I really had a musical taste that went much further than what my parents had introduced me to. I was, for sure, Michael Jackson’s number one fan. I knew all the MoTown classics, the late 70s pop hits, and classic 80s rock, but nothing like this. Stanley had introduced me to the music of my generation. Music that spoke to the spirit of angst and rebellion pulsating through our capillaries.
Then in grade six, Stanley introduced me to the urban battle cry of the oppressed and disenfranchised: NWA. At first, all I could hear was the heavy use of profanity, which was still forbidden to me. It took me a few years to get over my moral insecurities, and to connect with the pain that inspired those songs, but in grade six that NWA cassette elevated Stanley to the heights of subversion. At least, in my mind.
I sort of admired him, but I mostly admired how he could be Stanley so well. I also appreciated the fact that he regarded me as a friend even though he didn’t seem to need anyone. Stanley validated himself.
Something happened over that summer between grade six and grade seven. Between Elementary and Junior High.
Of course, switching schools and moving up in seniority meant casting off the old shells and starting things out on the right foot. You wanted to be noticed, to fit in, to have a certain power and coolness about you. This meant new clothes, new haircuts, occasionally new hair colours, perhaps some accessories, gadgets, and doodads. All harmless stuff.
But Stanley’s new look was not harmless. His new look made us all a little uneasy. Stanley shaved his head to the skin, wore a black monkey jacket, white t-shirt, tight blue jeans rolled up at the ankles, and heavy soled black Doc Martin boots. We all knew what a skinhead was, but we also knew who Stanley was. The two things just didn’t seem to fit together, so at first we all kept quiet about it.
Then the swastikas appeared around the school.
I was among the first immigrant brown kids in that neighbourhood, but by grade seven our cohort was speckled with Arabs, Lebanese, and Persians. I think they all mostly respected me. Perhaps because I was both one of their people and a recognized local.
The day the swastikas appeared, one of my Arab friends (a dominant personality among our peers) approached me.
“Emad, we’re going to beat the shit out of Stanley at lunch. You in?”
What? Beat up Stanley? They can’t do that. He’s my friend…at least I think he is. Am I being asked to join sides right now?
I responded diplomatically, “Dude, listen, I know him. Let me talk to him first. You don’t know for sure if it was Stanley. It could have been someone else?”
My Arab friend laughed. We all knew it was him. It was pretty obvious. Still, he gave me the benefit of the doubt, “sure, go talk to him.”
“Hey Stanley, how’s it going? Listen, about those swastikas, that wasn’t you was it?”
It was, and he was actually pretty entrenched. Started spouting some off-colour stuff about race and supremacy, and yada yada, so I confronted him, “Stanley! I don’t know if you haven’t noticed, but I’m brown, man! You can’t exactly be my friend and be this at the same time!” I gestured at his garbs.
Now, I might not be sure about a lot of these details; that is, I’m probably taking liberties with much of this story, but I’m certain about how he responded to me during that argument:
“Oh Emad, this isn’t about you, it’s the rest of them.”
The brute force of that contradiction hit me so hard, that I can barely remember what else happened from that moment forward. I do remember asking Stanley to stay indoors over lunch. I also remember spending that lunchtime running around the field asking my brown and black friends to calm down and back down. There might have been a confrontation on the field with Stanley at some point, I might have stood between him and an army of angry “ethnic” kids, but I’m not certain.
All I know is that Stanley eventually gave it all up and returned to being our friend. He recognized that it was wrong and probably regretted painting the swastikas on the wall.
I definitely don’t regret standing up for my good friend who had a momentary lapse in judgement. I’m proud of that kid who chose the higher ground – that kid who recognized that even hatred has a story, a story worthy of compassion.