At my school, Warren High, the majority of the black students hang out at the table at the center of the lunch area. This is where you find the cutest guys, and everyone at the table is popular. When I started high school I figured that hanging out there would be the best way to meet everybody.
I spent eighth grade at a small private school, Calvary Chapel Christian School in Downey. There were only eight black students out of more than 200 in seventh and eighth grade combined. Still I never felt out of place while at school; everybody hung out with everybody. I had a couple black friends and also friends who were Egyptian, Hispanic and white. It was cool to have friends of different backgrounds at Calvary.
But my cousin, whose friends all were black, always told me that I needed to hang around more black people. She never gave a reason why—to her it was just something I was supposed to do. Maybe she’s right, I thought. I’d heard it from other people in my family. And I looked up to my cousin. She was the only girl cousin I had around my age. I wasn’t going to change who my middle school friends were because things were cool. But I was ready to try socializing with black people when I had the chance.
I wanted to make friends with other black students
When I started ninth grade at Warren High, I decided to hang out with people who I thought I could relate to the most—the people at “the black table.” The school’s population is mostly Hispanic. I thought that I’d be more comfortable with the other black students because I’m black.
At first everyone was really nice. Once second semester started though, I noticed that the people at the table spent a lot of their time trash-talking others walking by—making fun of their clothes, their hair, their families, anything. When this happened, I would get up and pretend I had to go get something from a teacher. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want the person they were making fun of to see me.
The gossiping was difficult to listen to but when they started laughing at the special needs students I would tear up and leave immediately. My younger brother and sister each has a developmental disability and when I heard the comments it broke my heart. I wanted to speak up for all those people who were ridiculed, but I didn’t want to become the center of the table’s jokes. The rest of my freshman year was difficult. I tried my best to fit in even though I felt out of place. They eventually started making jokes about me. After a few too many, even some about the way I talked, I learned to always review everything I was about to say in my head at least three times because I was afraid of what someone might say about me.
But the worst thing happened at the end of freshman year. I was talking to a friend about this guy I had a crush on. I told her, “Oh my gawd dude! He is soooo freaking cute, man.”
A girl standing nearby had overheard my conversation and interrupted, saying, “You’re black, it’s ‘n**ga’ not ‘dude.’ Quit being so f***ing white!”
I didn’t know what to say. I was upset that a stranger had spoken that way to me, but what was I going to do? Lash out at her for telling me I’m too white when even members of my family had said that before. So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I just didn’t think about it, even though it hurt. A lot.
I felt like no one in my family understood how I felt. My older brother wasn’t the type to talk about his feelings, even though we’ve experienced the same treatment. Whenever I asked him why he didn’t hang out with the black students at school, he wouldn’t answer. He would just look at me, laugh and ask “Why does it matter?” Since he was on track and field he would usually hang out with his track friends, who were mostly Hispanic.
Sophomore year I decided that I wasn’t going to take any more crap. At first I stayed at the table because I thought that since the seniors had left, things would be better. But I continued being the target of their jokes. I would get laughed at for using “like” a lot or for using a bigger word in place of a simpler one.
After about a month of this, I felt like I had to get out of there. I had hardly anything in common with them, so why was I there? Even if I got a book on how to be black, it wouldn’t matter because whatever I did was wrong to them. This one time I showed my friend a picture of this white guy who I was talking to.
“Britawnya! Eww,” she said. “What the f***? He’s white. What is wrong with you!?”
It hurt a lot that a good friend of mine had a problem with a guy I liked just because of his skin color. But if I ever said that a black guy was cute, they’d say, “Britawnya, no. Just no. He’s not going to want your white a**.”
I couldn’t win. If these people were supposed to be my friends, then why did I feel so alone?
I continued to hang out at the table until October because I was afraid that if I left, they would talk about me the way they had talked about others. But things got worse. They would make fun of me for trying to get help with homework, or when my phone went off because I had a Rolling Stones ringtone. When they wouldn’t stop calling me “the white girl” even after I pleaded with them, I knew I had to leave the table.
I decided to spend some time hanging out with my two best friends Kirstin and Vanessa. Kirstin has been my best friend since first grade; I grew up with her family, she grew up with mine. We’re exactly alike. We like the same music, movies and clothes. The only difference is that she is white and I am black. Although Kirstin and I attended Warren together, we did not hang out at school. She had her friends and I was trying not to intrude on them. We hung out on weekends and during the summer.
Vanessa, who is Hispanic, and I are completely different. We have different taste in music, clothes, movies and lifestyles. But we’ve been as close as sisters since fourth grade. Her family even accepted me as if I was a part of their family. She transferred to Warren her sophomore year so she could spend more time with Kirstin and me.
I love my friends, but I could not tell them about what was happening at school. I felt that I had to take care of the problems I was having at the table on my own. No matter how much I wanted my friends to understand, they never would be able to. I wanted to fit in with people of my race, because I never really had.
I was judged for talking to my white and Hispanic friends
Before I actually moved tables, I decided to start visiting Kirstin and Vanessa where they sat during snack for 10 minutes just to see how things would go if I left. In that first week of my experiment, I was getting ready to head over and say hi, and I told this girl I was talking to that I would be right back.
“Oh what, now you gonna go hang out with your white friends?” she said.
“My white friends?” I replied. “Race is only skin deep, and I choose to hang out with them for who they are, not what they are.” I took a sharp turn and walked away, my head held high. They snickered as I walked away, but while walking toward my friends I realized that I needed to switch where I ate lunch permanently. A few minutes later, a lot of the girls from the table came over.
“What’s your problem?” one of the girls asked.
“Nothing” I said. I was so nervous. There were 20-plus eyes staring me down.
“Then what was that about?” she asked.
“She was calling my friends white, and they’re not even white. They’re mainly Mexican,” I said. “I just didn’t appreciate what she said.”
“So, what’s the big deal?” she said. “They are white.”
I just shrugged my shoulders and turned away. There was no point arguing with her. I realized that the table was no place for me. Their ignorance showed me that I had absolutely nothing in common with them, and it was time for me to leave. I haven’t eaten there since.
Once I left they said more things about me. Right after Christmas break, I wore a denim jumpsuit to school. As I was walked past the table it got silent and everyone stared at me. I continued walking and as soon as I turned the corner everyone started laughing really loudly. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. All I could think about was changing schools and getting out of Warren. I ran to the bathroom and cried. I never wanted to leave that bathroom stall.
The day after it happened I felt so hurt that I didn’t go to school. For days, I replayed that moment in my head, knowing that it was me they were laughing at because no one else had been around. I never wanted to tell anyone about what happened, not even my best friends. I was too hurt. It was an entire table I once called my area, filled with my peers. But I had only one thing in common with them—we were born black. At that moment, I felt as if I was born the wrong color, because they were never going to accept me.
For the next month, I tried to avoid the table by running to the bathroom at lunch or even spending time in a teacher’s class. Although I wanted to tell someone, what could someone else do to make things better? Time is what really helped me get over it.
The people in my new group of school friends are mostly Hispanic. I met my new group of friends through classes and through Kirstin. Sitting with them at lunch, I could finally be me. I didn’t have to be embarrassed about the music I listened to, the things I wanted to talk about or studying. Once when I needed to study for a test at home I turned off my phone for a few hours because I needed to focus. Suddenly there was a knock at my door. It was two of my friends eager to help me study. While looking into their faces at my door, I realized that they would always have my back.
This is where I belong
Lunch became a new experience. I couldn’t wait for it now because I would get to see my friends. I never had to second guess myself or rehearse what I was going to say. I began to feel comfortable with myself and who I was becoming.
I learned that people are going to talk no matter what. I understand that there are some people I won’t naturally connect with. But I would never judge them for who they are, because I would never want someone to judge me for who I am.
I know who I am and I know that being black doesn’t mean that I have to act a certain way. Looking back I wish I had spoken up, like with the special needs students. Now I would tell the students making fun of them to stop and leave them alone. I would not care that I would get made fun of, because standing up for those students would be the right thing to do. My friends taught me that I would rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.
If you liked this story, you should check out … Life in The Boondocks. Amandala, 18, says this comic strip is sarcastic, funny and realistic about black culture. (May – June 2005)