The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Black Girl, White School
Angelina Elizabeth Darrisaw

In 7th grade I was the only black girl in my class, and it was strange. I knew my new school was going to be predominantly white, but I didn’t realize I’d be the only black person in my grade for two years.

I’m from a black neighborhood and even though I knew of having a few white relatives, until 7th grade I had little interaction with white people.

Through 6th grade, I went to an all-black public school where I got joked on for being light skinned and having long wavy hair. My old classmates had called me white girl, but at my new school it was instantly clear that I was a black girl—surrounded by actual white girls.

I ended up at my school though a program that places gifted children, mostly of color, into private schools. My mom put me through the 14-month program because she saw it as an educational opportunity.

I applied and got accepted to the school I attend now. My mom chose it because it was small, with only about 400 students from nursery to 12th grade. We also felt, after our visits, that it was less snooty than others and that its Catholic background gave it a warm feel.

I was shy at first. But my classmates were so friendly it was easy for me to open up. They asked about my old school, my family, the shows I liked, and my hobbies. Still, sometimes I felt they were asking those questions out of duty, not out of interest.

Even though my classmates were generally friendly, they kept me aware that I was the only black girl. Sometimes it was like I represented the entire black race. Whenever anyone mentioned someone black or something about being black, my class would look at me.

Classmates asked me, “What do black people like to be called, African-American or black?” I told them, “I can only speak for myself.”

I was the only black girl in my class, but there were a few other black students in the school. The school made two of them, a senior and a junior, talk to me weekly, claiming it was because I was new. But none of the other new girls met with two older students. It was just me. Meeting with those girls helped because we shared experiences and they dropped knowledge, but it only added to my feeling of being separate and different.

My classmates seemed to assume that I and other black girls lived in some TV-type ghetto where everyone was a gang member and I had to dodge bullets to get home. My neighborhood is actually quiet most of the time and people keep to themselves.

Some comments were so ignorant I had to laugh about it later, though I still found them offensive. I was amazed my schoolmates could be that sheltered. A lot of people also assumed that all the minority kids were on financial aid when that wasn’t the case.

It was the more general statements from classmates about poor people and blacks that killed me though, like “most people on welfare are black,” which isn’t true. It was clear we had different realities. My life was something they could only hear about and wouldn’t dream of living.

And it was weird because I thought I was better off than a lot of kids. But because I didn’t have a maid and designer clothes, I was poor by their standards.

Our different backgrounds led us to different political opinions, too. Most of the girls were pro-Republican and pro-rich. At my old school, it was the opposite. So I was shocked to discover that people could favor programs and government officials who I thought cared little for most of the city’s residents.

I got into heated debates with some of my classmates about the problems with our capitalist system, or why affirmative action could be justified or how slavery was no fault of Africans. It was frustrating, not just coming up against opinions I thought were wrong, but that I was now the only one with my opinions. I had to constantly defend my perspective.

Our different upbringings made it hard to relate on some issues, but girls are girls. We liked boys, food, music, and going out. So sometimes we could connect on that level.

But then differences still remained. I preferred black boys, they preferred white boys. They’d meet guys at the joint school dances with private all-girl and all-boy schools. I could count on one hand how many black guys went there, so I’d meet guys through my old school, my neighborhood, or my church.

We also had different ideas of what was fun. A lot of them smoked, drank, or shopped for fun. My friends and I danced and went to movies for our fun.

image by Jovanny Canizares

Maybe it’s because of these differences that my classmates didn’t invite me to their parties and dances. One of them told me at the end of 7th grade, when I asked her why I didn’t get invited to her party, that they didn’t invite me because they felt I would be uninterested.

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, but I think if I’d been invited, I’d have gone without hesitation. I wanted to have friends in a new school like everybody else. It hurt to be left out.

Not having any good friends at school and always feeling alone made me miserable. I felt like I was in kindergarten all over again, being called white girl and excluded from playing double-dutch. But now I was excluded because I was black.

By the end of the year I’d had enough. I really wanted to change schools and sometimes came home in tears because I hated my school so much.

“Mommy, I can’t take it anymore,” I screamed at home one day. “Come on! Let me go to another school, puhleeeeeeze!”

Mom wasn’t hearing that. “Sweetie, I know it can get tough, but what do you think the real world is going to be like? No matter where you go, there’s going to be problems and I don’t want you changing schools. End of story.”

I thought she was just making excuses, and that she didn’t want me to change schools because the admission process had been so hard. But down deep, I knew she was right.

So I stuck it out. The following year, when we had elections for grade representatives, to my surprise, I was nominated. I guess my classmates liked the way I spoke my mind and had an opinion on everything, because I was elected. That made me feel less alienated and more liked.

But I still wasn’t cool enough for anyone in my class to invite me to hang. I had to take the initiative and invite them downtown or to a movie. Sometimes they joined me, but I felt like a friendship shouldn’t be so one-sided.

So I was happy to connect with the few other black students in the grades above me. Many of us went home from school the same way and had similar interests and upbringings. So we made an effort to call each other and really be friends—in school and out.

We came from a variety of backgrounds and classes, but our cultural similarities—and our experience of feeling excluded—brought us together. At lunch, we often sat at the same table in the teahouse (my school’s version of a cafeteria) every day.

It’s not like we had a sign that said “No Whites Allowed!” But some people at school thought we were excluding others. The administration told us to break it up.

It became a whole big drama questioning why the black kids were always together, but we saw it as white people always sitting together. We, who connected after being excluded, were told that we were excluding people. We were just friends who liked being with each other and were rarely invited to sit with white schoolmates, so why couldn’t we be together?

The drama continued into my freshman year, with assemblies about how people felt about the issue and student-teacher groups organized to discuss it.

Many students, black and white, didn’t think it was such a big deal. We thought the teachers were overdoing it. We made more of an effort to mix with the white students, but most of the time, we still sat together.

If I could do prep school over again, I probably wouldn’t. But as I’m getting older, I see that I have to make the best of it, or at least try to. Knowing hundreds of other kids are going through the same thing makes it easier because there’s always someone to talk to.

And while going to an elite private school is often a strain socially, academically I’m happy. I’ve taken fantastic classes in literature and modern world history and participated in a model congress.

This September marks my fourth year there. And soon, I’m going to be the junior or senior who’s asked to talk to the shy, new black 7th grader.

I guess I’ll just say, “Hey, I’m always here to talk. It gets hard sometimes, but being here, you get opportunities that will be really important in the long run. Remember, you’re in school to learn. And you gotta make yourself happy.”

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