In 1986, in New York City, in my private single sex K-12 school, bigoted talk about black people was not okay. Any educated Upper East Sider under forty knew that, and anyway, one of my best friends was black. My white friends and I saw all the black girls in the class as cool, even the ones who commuted from Queens and were too proper to socialize with us on the weekends. (“Where do you meet boys?” a teacher asked us. Nina—another white girl—and I: “Bars. Clubs.” Tnyetta, indignantly: “Church!”) Slandering blacks was taboo: it happened, but if you heard it, you were appalled, and hopefully you objected.

Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, were fair game.

A male friend joked about a hypothetical business plan, Rent-a-Rican: the Puerto Ricans would stand on the street with signs, whites would hire them for odd jobs, and Max would take a cut. I laughed along with everyone else.

Bigoted talk against Puerto Ricans was aboveboard, funny, customary. Their awful parade. Their cheesy music, their sleazy clothing, their criminal behavior. Two Puerto Rican kids mugged my brother and me as we walked up Lexington, shopping for Christmas presents. I was fourteen, my brother twelve. All we had were two dollars and change but we gave it to them before a nice older woman swept us along with her as she passed, rescuing us.

A few months later I walked again up Lexington Avenue, this time with Nina, after dark. We wore short skirts, short jackets, and tights. As we stood and waited to cross 86th street, two young Puerto Rican men—boys, possibly—passed on our left, catching the yellow light. I felt a rough jab between my legs. Too startled or maybe just too embarrassed to speak I said nothing, but Nina, a half second later, whipped around and yelled, “HEY!” and, emboldened, I looked back. No, it wasn’t Donald Trump on his way home from Elaine’s. It was them, the Puerto Ricans: they were walking south, glancing back at us and laughing. They’d grabbed our pussies.

I felt violated but only for a minute. The grab impacted me less than a white boy’s grab—there was little power in it because they didn’t have power. My prejudice acted as a second thick and protective layer of skin. The white males I knew had more social power than me, but I, Park Avenue private school girl, had more than those skinny Ricans. They were Puerto Rican pussy pickpockets, lifting two bucks and change.

Scum. Sleaze. Spics.                           

The following year I started dating a boy who went to another elite single sex Manhattan school.  Konstantin was white but not Billy Bush white. His parents were Russian; he was first generation American; his older sister had dated one of the Beastie Boys. He was nice and smart and sweet. A wrestler, a grade ahead of me. Handsome, with a fantastic body. We went skating at Rockefeller Center and out to Chinese food. I attended his wrestling matches and afterwards we loitered in the coffee shop down the block from Collegiate and he held my hand across the table when Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” came on. “This is our song,” he said.

There was one problem. Something I couldn’t get past. He dressed like a Puerto Rican.

Oh god please make that not be him, I’d think, waiting on the steps of my building at night, watching a figure walk up Park Avenue, a figure outfitted in gold chains, a cheap, shiny leather jacket, bright white sneakers, a too-tight shirt, and even tighter white pants. White pants.

It was always him.


I was too bigoted to even see it—my bigotry obscured itself. If you’d asked me, I would have said I wasn’t, that I didn’t notice skin color. But I did notice pants color, and the white screamed, Rican!

He went to Mexico with his family for Christmas break. A couple of days into the start of the new semester he hadn’t yet called me. So I called him.

“I don’t want to go out with you anymore,” he said.

I couldn’t speak for a minute. I was stunned, more so than when the kid on the street had grabbed my pussy.

“Why not???” I asked. Maybe even, “Why on earth not?”

He’d met someone at the resort. A girl. A Mexican girl.

He was breaking up with me for a MEXICAN???


“I’m sorry, but actually I just—I’ve just realized that I think you’re kind of shallow.”

And what could I say? I was.

I became a little less so with some time, and I realized a few things myself. In a quiet, undramatic, osmotic way, I changed my bigoted thinking, learning from the additional cultures and ideologies afoot in my vicinity, as well as from witnessing many older people and the more thoughtful and informed of my peers practice basic decency and respect towards others, no matter what their station in life.

Trump, at seventy, practices no such decency, demonstrates no such principled respect. He preys on those who use their hatred of the other to feel superior, to feel safe. His rhetoric seeks to close hearts and minds, not open them.

I dedicate my No Trump vote to kids like that kid on the street and kids like the one I was: kids who need their country’s leaders to lead, in part, by example; kids with the beautiful, breathtaking potential to understand that neither the violation of personal space nor hateful, dehumanizing attitudes are acceptable; kids who don’t yet know that they long to become their best selves.

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