art gallery
contributors subscribe links trumpet fiction back issues exit

Jarret Sims
Age 18



In the summer of my twelfth year, I learned a great deal about my character and a lesson that I am sure will serve me well throughout the rest of my life. I was attending the prestigious Five Star Basketball Camp, the toughest and most acclaimed basketball camp in the country for aspiring college athletes. In great contrast to the year-round environment I experienced at school, the majority of the camp’s attendees were black, and the white kids in the camp made up a small minority. Thus the stage was set for me to learn more about myself in one week than I ever had.

I vividly recall sitting at the dilapidated table that resembled a picnic table in the center of the overcrowded cafeteria. Sweaty, beaten down young bodies ages 12 through 18 were rapidly replenishing body fluids and indiscriminately shoveling down the undercooked meat that looked like abstract art on cracked, dirty, vanilla colored trays. I was in the middle of the frantic scene, sitting at this table with about 12 kids, most of them black, with a coach seated at the head. Our table had yet to be cleared so that we could get up and get food from the food window, so we sat and talked about the day’s events.

Chris, who was seated directly to my left was lamenting his missed last second shot that would have won a game for his team. Jason, who had guarded him on that critical last play, sat directly across from Chris and was making fun of him for crippling under his intense defense. Then came the moment that would forever change me. "Shut up you (expletive) Jew," Chris snarled at Jason through clenched teeth. The next voice said, "Table eleven, get up, push in your chairs and get some food. C’mon, let’s go fellas." Irv, the heavyset cafeteria manager shot a crooked glance through his thick brown bifocals that had been fogged by the sweltering heat inside the cafeteria as he ordered us to the front of the room. I hadn’t enough time to say something to my tablemate about his remark before we all headed for the food window. I got up, pushed in my chair and followed the rest of my hungry tablemates. Puzzled, I replayed Chris’s laconic retort over and over in my head. "He called him a Jew," I thought. My mind turned like a car engine in overdrive as I tried to figure out what had just transpired. The sweaty cafeteria lady who plopped two scoops of mashed potatoes on my tray then interrupted my thoughts.

I have grown up as a biracial (African-American/White) and Jewish kid, who has lived more lives than one, attuned to both the struggles of blacks and the fears of whites. I have been witness to events that have either helped me to understand myself as a person, or something about the world. As a result of my unique position, I have been forced to wear numerous faces, so to speak, adapting speech and appearance with the given element. Being a chameleon has allowed me to learn things about people that others might not encounter at such an early age. The fact that my experiences have taught me that there is a need for such adaptation indicates that the society in which we live places too much importance on appearance. Because the American public is constantly bombarded with images of beauty, it does not take a genius to come to this conclusion. Instead, I refer more directly to the fact that all people, especially those my age, seem to be addicted to giving labels to people. In turn these labels can stagnate their social mobility and personal growth. Such labeling or categorization is natural, as it is the way the mind works. However, I have found that most often people are not well enough equipped with sufficient facts or necessary experiences when it comes to people outside their own race, and thus they wrongfully make assumptions about the identity of others. And we all know what happens when one assumes.

Are we as humans, products of our environments, or simply preprogrammed beings that think, act, walk, talk and exist a certain way entirely because of heritage? My life and experiences have taught me that Mortimer Duke was absolutely right when he bet his brother Randolph, in my favorite movie, Trading Places," that the former is true. Unfortunately, I can recall a great many occurrences in which people of different backgrounds have made assumptions about my family and me that have left them looking racist when they might have harbored no ill thoughts regarding race and just lacked experience as did Randolph Duke.

I have been mistaken, when dressed in a fashionable suit and tie, for a valet parking person while at an upscale dinner with my family. Where we garage our family’s Ford Expedition, an ignorant woman once told my father, Dave Sims—a public figure and professional sportscaster for ESPN, that she would not be needing her car any longer that day. Another woman one might call mindless told my aunt that she was looking for a nanny, and seemed only to approach her assuming that she was a nanny, because of the color of her skin. These and many other unfortunate instances exemplify the fact that too often, people’s identities are wrongfully assumed by those around them. The only way such blatant ignorance can be combated is with facts, new experiences and exposure to the new.

When we returned to the camp table primed to eat, I turned immediately to Chris after having thought about his comment the whole way back from the food window. I said simply, "I’m Jewish." This declaration brought about a rousing "Ooooohhh" in unison from the rest of the table, who waited eagerly for the tension and violence they thought would ensue. Instead Chris turned to me and said, "Oh, I’m sorry man. I didn’t know. I never would have expected that. We later discussed the origin of his comment and I found Chris to hold no anti-Semitic sentiment; he had just heard the word Jew used in a derogatory manner more often than not. Since people are products of their environments, others must take it upon themselves as I did to effect change in the psyche of those who are racists, just plain ignorant or just unexposed. Therefore, I have chosen to educate and contribute to the greater awareness of those I come in contact with because I have been given a special situation and it is the only right thing to do. I feel it necessary to change the world for the better so that the next well dressed black person might not be mistaken for a parking lot attendant because of his skin color. It is also my hope that blacks not make similar assumptions and mistakes for similar reasons, holding either racist or xenophobic sentiments because of unfortunate beginnings to a long history in America that began over 250 years ago. Each change must be effected on a personal level, and I believe that with the tools I have been given, that it is my job to make the world a better place.

Jarret Sims is a biracial (African-American and white/Jewish) college student. His interests include writing, poetry, basketball, golf and the stock market. He is a freshman at George Washington University.


email us with your comments.