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  • In high school we were told to check a box which corresponded to our ethnicity, for statistical purposes. These were the politically correct options:

    African American
    Caucasian
    Hispanic/Latino
    East Asian
    South/West Asian
    Pacific Islander
    Native American
    Other


    I went to high school fresh from India in September of 2001. I didn't know which box I was supposed to check, so I asked my mother, who told me to mark myself as Hispanic/Latino. So I did. Never mind that I didn't speak Spanish or know much about the culture.

    It was a public school in Los Angeles and there were more than 3,000 other students with me.
    During classes everything was normal. Most of us talked to each other and sat next to our friends of different ethnicity.
    But then the bell rang and we all went out to the quad, and that's when I discovered that my high school was segregated. Not by law or the administration, but by the kids themselves, unofficially.
    Walking out, I would see a mass of "African Americans" gathered by the cafeteria. On the other side of the quad, by the Music Academy building, gathered the "Caucasians". The "Asians", "Hispanics", and "Others" were crammed somewhere in between.

    I'm going to stop being politically correct here and I'm going to tell it exactly how it was. If you were black and you hung out with the white kids at my high school between the years of 2001 and 2005, you were called an Oreo. That's what kids called you, because you were black on the outside and white on the inside and you preferred you wear Burberry instead of Sean John.
    And if you looked Chinese or Japanese and hung out with the white kids, the others called you a twinkie. Need I explain more?
    So one day I walked into my history class and found Cory upset. I wondered why and I found out someone had called him an Oreo out loud. I felt sorry for him. I couldn't relate to him, because I always kept myself somewhere in the middle, but I could imagine what it must have felt like not being able to be yourself without being labeled.
    It went the other way around too. There were a few white kids in the cafeteria, but I don't remember what they were called.

    Looking back, it's kind of like each ethnic group had formed its own nation. The Black nation and the White nation and the Latino Nation. Actually, there were literally clubs based on these things. The Latino Student club and the Desi club and clubs for "African Americans" and so on and so forth. And naturally, each nation had immigrants - legal and illegal.

    I don't know why. Maybe because of the media? Maybe because their parents taught them to be that way? Maybe because, for some reason beyond my understanding, the predominantly white kids had rich parents who put them in the famous Music Academy while the predominantly black kids and Latino kids were filling up the cafeteria with their food tickets (I know, I was one of them), so naturally the different groups were distributed in their respective places.

    And then there were others who just fit in anywhere. Like David, who was big and black and wore lip gloss and mascara with a smile on his face. And Yaminah who had a perfect face like Alicia Keys, shopped in the mens section, never wore makeup (except once, and everyone went crazy complimenting her) and was friends with practically everyone.
    And now I'm wondering how they are, being proud and black and gay in the world outside high school. Because in high school, despite the self-segregation, there was little racism and homophobia. All being said and done, we coexisted for the most part. And the world outside high school is not so forgiving and tolerant. Counselors and teachers are not so available to help us once we graduate.

    I learned a lot in high school. And I'm not just talking about history and science and English literature. It was the kids, mostly, who taught me the most valuable lessons. I didn't know racism before high school, apart from what I had seen on the TV. I grew up in a mixed community and played with kids of all different colors and nationalities without being aware of it. High school showed me a few things that may have ruined my perception of the world, or maybe woke me up to the reality of things.

    In any case, I wish it hadn't been that way. I wish we didn't divide ourselves based on color. But that's the way it is and its up to us to change it if we want to.
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