Teens feel judged, but they're comfortable in their skin

Jalaire Musgrave
Jalaire Musgrave

So often, they feel the stares. In a crowd of people, they know they stand out.

Not because of how they dress, how big or tall they are or how they wear their hair. That would be easier to deal with somehow.

Sometimes teens say they are judged by things far more personal — the color of their skin, their religion, culture or maybe their beliefs.

“People want to pick out the first thing they think is wrong with you,” says Madaline Walter-McCrary, a freshman at Oak Park High School in the Northland, who often feels judged because she’s Jewish and defends gay rights.

For Jackie Johnson, he feels some people think he’s just another “black kid” in Kansas City. And Karen Lu knows when many people hear her name, they think, “oh, the Asian girl.”

In the past few months, we talked to dozens of teens around the metro area about how they think others see them and how they see themselves. As teens are trying to find their identity, researchers say, what other people think can have a lasting impact.

This week, nine teens who say they are judged by their race or culture weigh in. At the end of the school year, Star Magazine will showcase others who believe they’re judged by their attitude and how they carry themselves. (To read Part 1 of “See Me,” which appeared in November, go to

Though you know people are gonna judge — and probably always will — it doesn’t lessen the pain, says Chelsea Young.

Pregnant at 16, Chelsea had her little boy, Christian, a month before her 17th birthday. A stigma has followed her, she says.

People look at her differently. Even her 12-year-old sister once thought she was “a slut.”

“She wrote that in her diary,” Chelsea says now. “She wrote, ‘I can’t believe she had a baby at 16.’ ” Her sister vowed in her writings that she would never grow up to be like her sister.

“ We get hurt when people talk about us,” the senior at Staley High School says. “Just because we’re moms doesn’t mean we’re different.”

On the following pages, compare the teens’ photos to their short descriptions of how they think others see them.

All of the teens helped compose their portraits to portray who they are, how they see themselves. The environment, their clothes and their look was up to them.

Chelsea knew she wanted Christian in the photo. And she wanted the two of them to wear matching outfits.

Hamza Chaudhry, 14, wanted to be in his native Pakistani dress. He wanted people to see him and see Pakistan, a country where both of his parents were born.

And Madaline, her photo would be on stage. It’s where she feels comfortable, at home. And she knew she had to display a little of her quirky side.

“I have a really fun personality, and I wanted to show that,” she says.

Karen Lu  18, Blue Valley Northwest High School

“There’s this Asian girl, she has a round face.She really looks happy. Where’s she bouncing off to?”

Hamza Chaudhry  14, Lee’s Summit West High School

“I’d rather people say, ‘Hey that’s a Pakistani American,’ not ‘Hey, that’s an American Pakistani.’ Everyone is American. I just like to have a special identity.”

Madaline Walter-McCrary  14, Oak Park High School

Some people know me as the freshman who got the lead this year, and some people know me as that girl who wears all the gay T-shirts, and some people don’t know me at all. I’ve just never grown up needing to be labeled in any way.”

Jalaire Musgrave  18, Fort Osage High School

“When people meet me for the first time — ‘So are you Hispanic?’ Like, no, I’m actually Samoan. ‘What’s that?’ It’s like Hawaiian, but not. And they’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”

Jordan Burdick  17, Lincoln Prep Academy

“ ‘What’s that guy doing around here?’ I’ve gotten dirty looks before like, ‘He really doesn’t belong here.’ ”

Matt Campbell  17, Kansas State School for the Deaf

“Hearing people tend to think deaf people think differently than hearing people, and that’s not entirely true. We think about politics. We think about just about anything anybody else thinks about.”

Eh Na  20, North Kansas City High School

“Where are you from? How did you get here? You’re not white, you’re not black, what kind of people are you? ... Can you tell me about you?”

Chelsea Young  18, Staley High School

“Older people, I think they feel like, ‘You’re too youngto have a baby, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re still in high school, how can you take care of a baby? You can’t even take care of yourself.’ ”

Jackie Johnson   17, Paseo Academy

“He’s just another little black kid walking down the street having nothing to do.”