By Katrina Spencer, 17, Granada Hills HS
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During my first three years at Granada Hills High, I only spent my time with one friend, Twnatte. She was my best and only friend. I found comfort in that we were so similar—black, female, from the city and going to school in the Valley.

It’s not like anyone ever blatantly said that I should only be friends with black people. But there were social hints out there that influenced me.

In eighth grade, for instance, I had a picture of white heartthrob James Marsden in my binder. My physical science teacher, a real pro-black guy, saw it. He wagged his finger at me and said, "Come on, soul sister, you can do better than that."

Another time I told that same teacher about a suggestion from another teacher about a science experiment. My teacher said, "Is that teacher white or black?" I raised my eyebrows and said, "What difference does that make?" He said, "It makes all the difference. Why should I trust a white man?"

One time last year, my dad lay in bed and Jordan, my white boyfriend was in the living room. I asked my dad if he wanted to meet him. He said no. I don’t know why he didn’t want to meet him. Was it because he’s white? I thought it was disrespectful, and I shrugged it off.

No one had ever said it, but it felt like I should only be close friends with other blacks. It was OK to know people of other races, but not to make them part of my intimate world.

By senior year, Twnatte and I started to part paths. We spent less and less time together and before I knew it, I was alone at nutrition and lunch. I knew other people and said hello to them in the halls, but I didn’t know them well enough to hang out with them.

A few weeks into the first semester of senior year, I enrolled in an anthropology class at school and ran into my old friend, Sena. We had an absolute blast together sophomore year in honors world history. I was really excited to see her. We gabbed all period long, and it felt good to have another black friend. After class was over, Sena and I had lunch together in the college career center. It quickly became a regular thing.

Before long, Sena invited her friends to join us. None of them were black. I was surprised at how comfortable she was with students who weren’t black.

There was Mona who’s from Lebanon, speaks French, Arabic and Spanish and is Muslim. Not only that, Mona is blond and dresses like a supermodel. I thought to myself, "Wow, Sena. This is your friend? She’s not black."

Friends with a non-black?

I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel eager to get to know Mona. I thought that Sena’s relationship with Mona was a passing thing. A part of me hoped it was. At school, blacks hung with blacks. That’s just how it was. I didn’t understand how Sena had such a close relationship with this girl who seemed to be nothing like her. I mean, what DID they talk about?

Mona began to have lunch with us regularly in the college career center. I felt jealous of their relationship at first. They went to clubs in Hollywood, did community service for the blind and exercised in an aerobics class together. They asked me to join them, but transportation was a problem for me, and I couldn’t go.

Soon I met Mona’s friend Leedia, whose family is also from Lebanon. She always talked about the compound she lived in back in the Middle East. She told stories about how she was the swimming champ and that she went swimming almost every day.

After hanging out with these people for a while, I began to see that looking different wasn’t that big of a deal.

Then Ani, a former geometry classmate of mine, joined our lunch group. Ani is Armenian and was born in Iraq. She asked me to read the personal statement she was sending to a college. The essay spoke of her first day in an American classroom. It spoke of her struggles with English and how cold her young classmates were. I found it humbling and never knew she had gone through so much.

I sat back and looked at my new group of friends. I thought about how they laughed, gossiped and whispered. We talked about SATs, college, homework, teachers, boys we liked and girls we didn’t like. I loved being with them. I couldn’t believe that I was hanging out with such a diverse crowd, when so recently, my world had only room for me and other black people. The mass majority of blacks at my school seemed to only have time for black people.

In the back of my mind I worried that I was betraying my black brothers and sisters. It was as though I was saying they weren’t good enough for me, which simply isn’t so.

One day, Twnatte swung by the college career center and sat with my lunch group. I feared she wouldn’t like my new friends. I feared that she’d think that I betrayed her. She listened to our talk about essays, college and books. She came back and ate with us often. She didn’t say anything about the lunch group not being black. She just went with it. Later she jokingly said that she was surrounded by nerds. It was funny.

I learned that it’s really OK to be friends with different people. I don’t think friendship should be about color. It should be about comfort. My lunch group opened my eyes to that. I’m happy I learned the difference.