I was one of the lucky ones. My pimples were few and far between. Others were tortured by their skin eruptions. And, as we know children, particularly teens, can be very cruel.
But it wasn’t just acne that resulted in exclusion from the group that went to most of the parties, sat at lunch together or just hung out. There were those considered “ugly” or “fat” or just plain peculiar.
I don’t think I was cruel but I participated in the exclusion. I remember a girl who was known to have a crush on me in 7th grade. I paid her little attention because she was not attractive or socially adept. I’ve wondered, often, how she grew up and what I might have missed.
When we played post office or spin the bottle there was always someone you didn’t want to be with in that darkened room or to whom you did not wish the bottle to point. You kissed or made out anyway.
And we were segregationists. I don’t remember any of my fellow elementary classmates of color being included in activities outside of school. In fact I remember no social inclusion at all until college and there it was unusual.
In high school, because it was all boys, there was little socializing outside of the 15th Street building except at football games and the Hunter and Julia Richman school dances. At the latter I didn’t participate much and don’t recall anything inter-racial.
For me, I don’t believe the separations were conscious until the civil rights movement exploded on college campus’. My era saw the birth of Black studies curricula. In those days to be liberal meant not to notice the color of people. Today it is rightfully different.
My co-chair of the President’s Commission on Drug Use at CCNY was a Black woman, I don’t think I noticed. And my sociology mentor was a Black man, this I noticed, probably because I first encountered Dr. Walter C. Bailey in a class called “minority groups,” where he made a big effort to educate the previously insulated White kids about racism in life’s daily encounters, language and history. He was successful in creating change in me.
Looking back at college I can recall the battle between Greek life and House Plan life. Fraternities were very ethnic, Houses, less so. I was in House Plan but even here I remember separation by race and religion.
I can say that I am sorry it was generally like that and that I was like that. Even if the segregation was unconscious or unintentional, we all could have gained from knowing each other better.
My adult life has been less separatist, mostly because of work. But looking back, because most of my socializing was based around the synagogue, it too was isolating.
I try to recognize opportunities today but I still encounter myself seeing stereotypes. And when I look at the world around me, I see that so much has not changed from the days on West 83rd Street.