Up until third grade I went to a dream school. Sure, making friends presented a challenge the first couple of weeks; but eventually, I made my first friend, Dawn Washington. Even though Dawn moved away later that year, it was smooth sailing from then on. Despite my introversion, by the time I was a third-grader I had friends of various races, was a Brownie in Troop 266 and of course excelled academically. Then at the beginning of my fourth grade year, my parents told my sister and I we would be transferring to another school.
I was already borderline socially awkward and the thought of having to start over at an entirely new school was not ok…to say the least. To add insult to injury we started this new school a week later than everybody else because my family was on vacation. I tried to put on the brave, cool girl front and in retrospect I realize my new classmates really did welcome me.
Only one thing was awry.
While I had a variety of friends at my old school, here the black girls and I just didn’t… gel. While I was dipping my feet into the creek and trying honeysuckle for the first time with the white girls; the black girls were on the black top singing TLC’s “Red Light Special”. I’m not going to lie, “Red Light Special” was my jam too but I was not trying to spend my entire recess harmonizing to those raunchy lyrics. It’s just not what I was about as a fourth grader.
So I hung with the people I could relate to; and they were white girls. When we chose partners in class I was always with one of my white friends, when we had sleepovers I was the only black girl there, during Christmas we exchanged Beanie Babies and Bath and Body Work lotions. They were my friends.
Then I graduated into sixth grade.
New school but the same people I’d spent the last two years with, plus a few hundred new students from other schools in the township. I remember thinking I was too grown because I had a locker now. I was excited about the thought of making the transition from being looked at as a child to being considered an adolescent. I was so wrapped up in the thought of being grown I never considered that my friend circle would change… drastically.
It seemed like the second we crossed the threshold into that new building my white friends and I had nothing in common. Certain things and certain people were quickly labeled “ghetto” and the new friends I’d made didn’t mesh too well with my old ones. Increasingly our conversations got shorter, there was no more hanging out after school and our relationship was reduced to waving to each other in the hallway, if that.
Not that I was lonely. I had new friends to fill the void. Black friends… all black friends. I’ll always cherish the relationships I formed in middle school. I met two of my best friends in middle school; but I did notice the shift, and it bothered me.
For years I harbored resentment toward white people, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it. During my freshman year of high school, it was my best friend that told me about myself. Turns out she didn’t have white people issues like I did; in fact, she was cool with white people. One of her friends, Shelley, ate lunch with us our freshman year. While I should have seen her willingness to eat with us as a testament to her coolness, I didn’t. All I saw was that she was white. Meaning I was fundamentally different from her and we could talk but we’d never be friends. After all, that’s what I’d learned from middle school.
I thought I was keeping my anti-Anglo sentiments to myself but my friend called me all the way out. She said I was constantly making “all white people do this” type of statements that were not only stereotypical and rude, they hurt Shelley’s feelings. And my friend’s words hurt me. It was one thing to [secretly] dislike white people but it was an entirely different thing to be rude. That was not who I was raised to be and it took me a minute before I realized she was telling the truth, that was who I had become.
I can’t say that I changed overnight but I did change. I saw it my senior year. I worked as an editor for my high school’s paper and I spent long hours with the newspaper kids. We were a mixture of black and white kids and we talked about everything under the sun. By the end of the year I realized these people had become my friends. We spoke to each other in the hallways, we made each other laugh and the true distinction between friend and associate…we hung out after school.