Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In which the black and Latino people are nice to me and I can't find the Jews or the gays

Never Done: I ran hills

I mean, I have run up a hill before, and I have run down a hill before, but I have never run up a hill, and then run back down it only to intentionally run up it again, over and over again for 40 minutes. OK, 30, once you count the time running to and from the starting place. But rather than write about the running which was somewhat physically challenging, I would like to write about something that has been somewhat emotionally and socially challenging for me in this triathlon training: it is truly not a radical (or even progressive, or even thoughtful) space.

I've been joking casually about how I am the shortest, grayest, and most Jewish person on our team. And while it's funny to say this, the ways in which it's actually true are painful. Basically, most of the people on my team aren't very warm to me, including my coach. Is it because they're shy? Awkward? More comfortable with people more like them? (White, gentile, straight men and women?) Maybe. And so I do what I always try to do -- treat them as if they want to be warm to me. I smile at them, I say hi, I joke around. And believe it or not -- 9 times out of 10, they stare blankly back at me, as if I wasn't even there. Is it because they're shy? Awkward? Worried about the two beat kick we are learning in the pool? Maybe. And so I do what I always try to do -- treat them as if they want to be warm to me. Until I don't anymore, and I just think to myself, "Fuck it. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to learn how to race a triathlon." Score one for the evil side.

But ... I am only telling part of the story. There are some people on my team who are consistently nice to me. Wary as I am of racial profiling, we've now been training together for 6 weeks, and so I feel like my scientific sample is growing more and more reliable. I'll give you one guess. OK, two guesses. You got it already? Right. Black people. The black people are consistently warm and friendly to me. And guess who else? The Latinos.

What's up with that? Am I actually warmer to my black and Latino teammates than I am to my white ones and everyone senses it and responds in kind? Are my black and Latino teammates feeling as marginalized as I am and so are more predisposed to respond to my warmth with warmth in return? Does it have nothing to do with me, and my black and Latino teammates are generally warmer and more team-oriented? Or more intentionally welcoming? Or some other explanation?

And by the way, where are the Jews? This is Brooklyn! Josh didn't believe me that I can't find the Jews on the team, and so I read him the names of the people I'm training with. Sander. Bullock. Stewart. Beam. Morefield. Stover. Maxwell. Hale. It was around this point that he raised a white flag in surrender. And I wasn't even intentionally omitting all the -berg and -stein names. They're really not there!

And while we're at it, where are the queers? They must be there, but I cannot find them. There was one woman in the pool who was nice to me one time, and she had hairy legs (I am not making this up) but I haven't seen her back again. The thing is, I actually know where the queers are. They are training with the Tritons, like I probably should have.

So what does any of this have to do with my Mussar practice? Well, it is a whole lot of otherness, isn't it? And a lot of it is coming from me. If the practice is to consider what is the burden of the other, I think I am actually doing well. If the practice is to become at home anywhere, even when I feel marginalized, I still have some work to do. I do have a sense that I belong, and I do have my own private understanding that I am doing really well, considering that I am totally keeping up with the majority of 20 somethings who are training. I might not be as fast as they are, but I am doing everything they are doing -- just slower. (Except in the pool, when I am doing it faster.)

Strangely, I think what I really need to do is stop worrying about the other people. Stop comparing myself. Stop worrying if they are judging me, and just reach for enjoyment of my own body moving through space. If I can do that -- if I can enjoy myself while I am training -- then I probably won't care how people see me, or don't.


  1. might stop worrying about the other people but you have done others a great service just by sharing your experiences. Who knows what might be up the people who don't seem friendly. If you have put yourself out there as one who is open to their friendship, I am truly curious as to what might the problem be...

  2. This feels to me like my entire life as a cyclist in Portland. Except that people are generally friendlier (thank goodness).

    In fact, sometimes I'm the one who is standoffish just because I get so tired of being 'the one.' Remind me to tell you about an interesting exchange I had with a KBOO radio host who is doing a show on black cyclists in Portland.

  3. Thanks, Rupe. I hope it's helpful!

  4. Wait, a second Kronda. Are you saying that Portlanders are generally friendlier than New Yorkers? Oh, yeah, right. It might actually be true. Except there's that whole pioneer spirit thing in the Pacific Northwest, where people live there because they want their space. Anyhow, can't wait to hear your KBOO story!

  5. Great post, but keep in mind that this big ol' Jew has the incredibly WASPy last name of Morse. Yay halfsies and converts!

  6. So true, Nikki! And YOU would be nice to me if I smiled at you at practice.