(Anna Deavere Smith’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/13; via Pam Green.)

In 1961, there was a widely held theory among educated Baltimore Negroes, many of whom, like my mother, were teachers or administrators themselves, that if you wanted your children to have a good public school education, you should send them to a school that was predominantly Jewish, because Jews valued learning. And so I was sent not to the brand-new junior high that was built to service Negro students who were in desperate need of a better facility, but to Garrison Junior High in the Forest Park neighborhood, from which gentile whites had fled when the Jewish population moved in. I wasn’t “bused,” but I had to take two buses to get there.

Segregated schools taught you where you did belong. Integrated schools taught, in surgical detail, where you did not belong.

That is what junior high is all about. Sorting. I assessed the following as best as an 11-year old-could: White Christians and Jews stayed apart. My Jewish classmates seemed to divide along lines that privileged assimilation. Two Eastern European girls, one of whom had recently arrived in the United States, played a game in which they threw knives into a circle on the ground. (Today, that would get you handcuffed and perhaps jailed.) They were ostracized. But a newly arrived Algerian Jewish girl was welcomed because she was pretty. We Negro kids divided along class lines: where we went to church, by neighborhood and by our mating habits.

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Photo: the Los Angeles Times

 

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