Words Can Hurt

Prize Winning Essay – Anonymous

Racism. Anti-Semitism. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Do you think about the Civil Rights Movement? Do you think of the Holocaust? Why am I asking these questions? Because I am a multicultural Jewish boy, who has been exposed to racist and anti-Semitic comments in middle school.

My mom is black, my dad is white, they are both Jewish and neither of them were born in the US.  Before I started middle school, I was super excited. It was the only thing I could talk about. But when I started middle school, I would hear phrases like “nig*a, what you talkin’ ‘bout!” and “shut the f*ck up nig*a!”. When I heard the phrases, I would freeze in place and my stomach would churn. Later that same year, I was called a nig*er. I was choked up inside with a hurricane of emotions. So, I turned around and ran. It was the only way I wouldn’t cry, and since I was at school there was no way I could cry in front of anyone.

Every time I heard the words, my shell of tolerance for them would crumble. I was also called a Nazi that year after I returned to school from the Jewish high holidays. I was visibly angry because most kids know that I am Jewish. But they don’t know that everyone on my dad’s side of the family was killed in the Holocaust, except for his parents (my grandparents). Shortly after that, another classmate also called me a Nazi.

People just think they can say words and they won’t have an effect.  Now in 7th grade, two anti-Semitic comments were said to me. The first one was when a boy in my grade came up to my group of friends and said “What is the difference between a Boy Scout and a Jew? Boy Scouts come back from camp!” I was shocked! I went home and told my parents, who called the grade principal. I didn’t tell the grade principal because I wasn’t ready to speak out. Well, the time to speak out came the week after. The comment was so racist that I couldn’t breathe for a couple of seconds and there was a tingling sensation in my body. The kid said “How do you know someone is a black Jew? They sit in the back of the oven!”. This question was racist and anti-Semitic.

When I went home I told my parents about the comment.  My parents have helped me through all of my experiences. My parents put the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in contact with my school to do something about racism and anti-Semitism. Later, all of the 7th-grade homerooms had a slide show that talked about racism and anti-Semitism, and they had a class discussion after. It didn’t help because a couple of weeks later a Jewish classmate told me that a student did the Hitler salute at lunch. 

I want people, not just kids, to understand that their comments and actions can affect others. At school, I never wanted to be the person to speak out against racism and anti-Semitism because I was embarrassed and afraid kids would treat me badly. But the problem was, I kept being forced into the position because of other people’s comments and actions. Initially, I didn’t want to write this essay because I feared it would put me in the same position as before, but then I realized that I needed to get my experience out in another way. I want people to be aware of what they’re saying because words have meaning and they can hurt people.