Sunday Sitdown #7: Taking a Look Around

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.

High school.

There is something about it.

Everyone, it seems, is on a quest for identity, for selfhood. It’s what makes everyone both unique and identical. There’s drama. There’s melodrama. There’s angst. There’s a coming of age.

There’s also inner conflict as the self-involvement of youth gives way to the more empathetic views of adulthood. I keenly remember this push-pull and the tension it created.

Translation? High school was the first time I looked around at what was happening with other folks.

I noticed Black kids often sat together in the cafeteria or student lounge.*
I noticed that when they were together, they acted differently than when they were with white peers.

You’d think I would feel uncomfortable with that, or feel left out. But something else was happening for me around the same time. I was also starting to see and understand how others perceived me as a Jew.

High school marked the first time…
…someone directly told me I needed Jesus to save me.
…I received the first probing “ethnic” questions. (“So…what ARE you?)
…Sunday school was canceled because of bomb threats.
…I’d be given a derogatory nickname. (“Oh, look. Lainie the Jew.”)

It became clear to me – more than it ever had – that I was an “other.” There were places I belonged, and places I didn’t. I found that it was comfortable to hang out with other kids who were Jewish. It wasn’t exclusionary. It wasn’t an attempt to be rude.

It was a means of emotional survival. We didn’t even really talk about Jewish stuff, but it just felt good to be with people who had shared experiences. Going to youth group events created a space where we could all just…exhale.

Did I mind that folks separated themselves out?
That they had different, more familiar ways of relating among folks in their own groups without me?

I didn’t mind.
And I still don’t mind.
Yes, we need to integrate.
And yes, we need safety and comfort and support.
And we need it wherever we find it, from whomever it might come.

*All Black kids? nope. Nothing is never “all” or “nothing” (see what I did there?). Of course there was integration among students. But there was also enough separation for a kid to notice.

Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

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