{the incidental unkindnesses of junior high}

Soooo, it started with the brilliant National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang cartooning about his middle school Glare of Disdain in the NYT, and how it took books to show him that someone else he abused – to make sure he wasn’t the bottom of the social heap – could have worth. And then author Uma Krishnaswami blogged briefly about what she termed “the small, incidental meannesses of childhood.” And now, it’s my turn – with apologies to Joyce Kilmer.


I hope I nevermore shall be
a tool like I was to Ray B. —

A boy whose brown skin and sharp dress,
IMMEDIATELY my class impressed…

(And, junior high became a hell
– Since he was black, like me, as well.)

From that first day we were a pair
– in others’ eyes, I was aware –

To speak to him, I did not deign
– He started acting like a pain…

I was a vicious little pill. The memory, it haunts me still.

Glares of disdain from foolish …me were undeserved by Raymond B.

Ray was a funny, wisecracking annoyance like every other 8th grade boy, and completely innocent of the scheming machinations of the girls who told me if I knew what was good for me, I’d snap him up — and I STILL took my shame and humiliation out on him. It was indefensible, though I know that I was reacting from the position of being one of the only black girl in the class who was deemed “normal” enough to auto-pair with the ONLY black boy in our class. (“Angie” – class valedictorian, was apparently too smart and not cool enough; I, with my more developed person, was often accused of “stealing” boyfriends, so was a threat needing to be neutralized. Gah.) I hated that automatic assumption, the blind, officious hideousness of dropping ‘hints’ that I should Go For It, that it was all Meant To Be, because, obviously, two black kids, we had found our Destiny! UGH. ::shudder:: Still – poor Ray. Sorry, dude. Not your fault.

Do you find the various petty cruelties of childhood still haunt you?

2 Replies to “{the incidental unkindnesses of junior high}”

  1. OH yes, there were many “petty cruelties” that I wish I could simply move past, none involving ethnicity however. I would never want to repeat high school. Once was more than enough.

    Good poem. Wonder if Ray B. remembers any of this?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.