The Death of Differences This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Myschool's annual "Welcome Back" dance made me feel anything but welcome.An hour into it, an obviously intoxicated football player bumped me from behind.He got in my face, telling me, a "pansy tennis player," to watch whereI was going or I'd be sorry.

Later another student, also smelling of acontrolled substance, sarcastically lauded the theatrical production I had justbeen in and suggested I wear make-up all the time because "that's what dramaqueers are supposed to do." I was starting to be bothered, and thought itwould be a good idea to cool off for a minute in the bathroom. While washing myred-hot face, my back to the door, I heard two kids make obscene comments aboutme being Jewish. That's where I drew the line. I found the girl I'd come with andwe walked right past the policeman and out the door.

My hometown is apicturesque small town. It has beautiful views of the ocean and a well-regardedschool system where 80 students are bound together from kindergarten throughsenior year. The administration and faculty pride themselves on providingstudents with a nurturing, caring environment that accepts differences andchange. They have, in fact, made some impressive strides toward increasingdiversity and awareness over the past few years. They even created a Gay-StraightAlliance, and continue to fund METCO, a program that "imports" minoritystudents from inner-city Boston. While increasing awareness of diversity in ourschool has been a positive, there is no way to vindicate the ignorant andinsulting beliefs held by so many students in today's society.

In otherwords, bigots exist in schools. It is a fact of human nature that people haveprejudices. Growing up in my affluent community, I have seen all types ofdiscrimination form in impressionable young minds and develop into fixed ideas.When I was teaching swimming last summer, one six-year-old was embarrassed that afive-year-old could perform the backstroke better. The six-year-old's response?"Yeah, well, my house is bigger than yours." This attitude starts withthe parents and then is strengthened with like-minded peers. Kids are taught fromday one that the rich are superior to the poor, and that material wealthdetermines character.

Discrimination extends far beyond a disparity inwealth, however. In a Brave New World-esque manner, these same minds develop thebelief that a certain religion is the "correct one." Why else wouldthere be so many deaths in the Middle East if discrimination weren't a majorfactor in religions? Children are taught to think that a certain skin colordevalues the human being inside. After all, the only contact that students in mytown have with anyone of color comes from the METCO program, where the studentsare bussed here every morning in a scene eerily reminiscent of the tumultuous1960s.

Even students of the same religion, wealth and skin color arediscriminated against because they are labeled "different." This"difference" could be any number of things, from a new haircut to thestyle of their clothes to their accent. Differences are not appreciated butdemeaned because they are viewed as threats. Consequently, many - including aBritish student who moved to America and began taking speech lessons to mask heraccent - try to nullify their differences to fit in.

So that is where westand now. Conformity rules our lives. Do I really need to spend the rest of mylife hiding the fact that I am Jewish so that I am not denied a potential jobopportunity? Will it be necessary for me to hide my love of drama in order tomaintain masculinity among my peers? My answer is no. I still see the light atthe end of the tunnel, as dim as it may be, that one day a "WelcomeBack" dance will welcome everyone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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