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169 Black Lives and My White Privilege: Lessons from Childhood Kenneth Weene I had never experienced love before, not like this at any rate. In Latin class of all places. Declining a simple adjective, good: “Bonus, bona, bon…er. Excuse me, Miss Gibson, but I can’t—” Wise and experienced, our heavy-set, gray-haired teacher waved me to sit. “Yes, can somebody continue for Kenneth.” A few hands went up. I prayed that Miss Gibson wouldn’t pick her. “No, please not her.” More fervent, more sincere than any moment of Hebrew ecstasy I had seen our Rabbi and cantor muster in synagogue. That wisest of teachers had taken in not only my protuberant tumescent predicament but also the line of my sight—no not sight, for I was blinded by desire—the line of my adoration. “Peter, thank you.” I sat in rapture for the remainder of the class. Each movement, no matter how small, of her perfect head, each gesture of her graceful hands, each hunch of her so well-shaped shoulders and the sudden immediacy of yearning readied itself to ejaculate a spasm of want. Yep, it was true love. Thankfully, Marylyn, the double-y’ed and budding A-cup of my yearnings, was oblivious. A row to my right and three seats forward, she had not turned around. Such was the decorum of classrooms in those distant days. Or, at least it was my hope and my wish that she didn’t know the nature of my feelings. But, those feelings were there. Boy were they there. That they were normal was something I had no way of knowing. In our home, we talked about suitability of dates, but never, ever about sex or lust. There was a list of “approved” girls from the community. Given the size of our community, particularly the Jewish contingent—oh, yes, any girl would have to be Jewish even if our family’s most basic act of 170 worship was not in shul but in the eating of bagels and lox—it was not surprising that the list had one name on it. Janice was a nice enough girl. She danced about as well or badly as I; we shared the same ballroom dance class, the goal of which was preparation for the bar mitzvahs to come that year. Beyond the rumba and the fox trot, there was neither attraction or mutual interest. But, Marylyn was different. Wow different. Oy vey different. Too bad for me. It could not be. Not then; not in a million years. Marylyn was the only “negro” girl in our school; in fact, she was the only negro in my world, period. I use the word negro because that was the word we used in those days. We used it to describe something that we did not understand and should not want to know. The word carried all the freight of a taboo and all the guilt of knowing that somehow the Yankees, of which we Bostonians were the heirs, had failed, that the Civil War had never brought a true peace. Certainly, Marylyn allowed me no peace—not in school, not when I was supposed to be doing homework or chores, not in the hours when I might ride my bicycle or play with friends, and most especially not at night. Awake, the nights were filled with visions and fantasies. When sleep came, wet dreams tormented me, and, of course, left their morning residual of embarrassment. In those days, love outside the prescribed bounds was not an option. For months I fantasized and I pined, but I limited myself to the acceptable fumbling words that passed muster both with the external guardians of morality and the rigid sentinel in my own head. We said hello and talked about homework and teachers. I asked if she liked home economics and she inquired after my shop classes. In physical education we were once in the same square for dancing and I actually held her hand and swung her around. No sweet words, no kisses, no caresses. With time my infatuation diminished. My declensions and conjugations improved. There would be no one else for me—except dance partners—not for years; and that is a different story. 171 Three years after my Latin engorgement, I was travelling north from Florida, back to Massachusetts from our winter vacation. There were five of us, of whom I was the youngest. We were driving along the Outer Banks of...


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