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Fitting In, Across One County. . .

'When you get down to it, race is just a waste of time.'

June 07, 1997|MEREDITH KAMMERER | Meredith Kammerer, 17, attends Marshall High. This essay is from the May-June issue of LA Youth newspaper

I was racist. I wasn't a member of the KKK, but I was prone to tasteless jokes and slamming those who didn't look like me.

I grew up in Palmdale, a primarily white suburban town. Racial problems were for those who lived in L.A. We didn't have any race riots, people pretty much stayed in their own cliques and were happy. Proposition 187 wasn't a big deal to me and my white friends. The proposition was good, wasn't it? It would cut off money to those lazy bums on welfare and those illegal aliens who were plugging up the school system with ignorant non-English-speaking students who dragged the rest of us down. Why were those disruptive protesters rioting and causing mayhem? That was the way I felt in my sheltered environment.

Then I moved to L.A., the land of "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Saved by the Bell." I thought I would be able to meet those who were like me--white.

The first day at Marshall High School was like nothing I had ever experienced. Walking into the cathedral-like main building was pretty exhilarating, but as I looked around, I saw that I was in a sea of dark hair and skin. What was going on? Where were the cute Luke Perrys? As I walked around feeling like I was trapped in an episode of "Dangerous Minds," I encountered a few fair-haired ladies like myself. They gave me icy stares. Hey sisters, I thought that we should stick together since there were so few of us.

I didn't talk to anybody because I didn't know what to say. How could I carry on a conversation with those "other" people? Then, finally, one of "them" spoke to me. "You're new here, aren't you?" Suddenly I was looking at a bright smile. She was black. I didn't know what to do. So I answered politely and found that I was thrust into a very chatty conversation. Soon I didn't worry about the color of her skin, we were just lost in the topic.

When she asked me where I lived, I replied, "Echo Park." Then another unfamiliar face popped in, "Hey, I live in Echo Park." Another face and another smile. What was going on? These people were a different race than I was. They were nice to me while those other "white girls" were just full of evil stares. It seemed the whites were the ones who cared about looks. Just like me. What an epiphany.

As the year progressed, I found myself hanging out with people who had the same kind of interests as I did, people of all races. When I talk to people from where I used to live, they are amazed that I have friends who aren't white.

Living in L.A. has taught me some interesting life lessons. You don't know if all people who speak Spanish are from Mexico. And when you get down to it, race is just a waste of time. Those people who I once thought were reckless and destructive for rioting against some silly law were just fighting for what they believed in. Some of the most intelligent people that I have met have been of a different race than me. They don't necessarily have the same privileges that I had growing up, but that doesn't mean that they are worthless or stupid. A lot of my new friends aren't rich, but they are still good people.

Now I get dirty looks from people who judge me for hanging out with all those "ethnic" people. I just figure that it's their loss.

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