I don’t want to say Tanya was the first smart kid I met. I knew plenty of smart kids back at my city school. Kids who aced physics tests and math exams, who’d go onto be lawyers, valedictorians and engineers. But Tanya was the first friend I had who was really onto stuff , who saw “oppression” and “exploitation” and wasn’t afraid to call them out.
I soon realized Tanya had a secret pipeline to the real deal, and I imagined that it came from her city dad, the Indian doctor no one ever saw. If Shirley wasn’t invited to a party, she would probably have just silently endured it before Tanya came along, feeling bad no doubt but not really knowing why. But not Tanya. “No Invite for colored girls like me,” she’d say loudly, striding through the school parking lot, taking a drag off her cigarette, blowing it right at me, daring me join the conversation, the lone “white girl” in the group.
That’s the thing: When I was with Tanya, I was “White” (which I’d never been before because I was part of the invisible, privileged class, “the dominant culture,” Tanya reminded me) and I was “rich,” which was even harder to accept because British Protestant children of the Depression that my parents were, they didn’t really shoot a quarter my way that I wasn’t going to have to account for later. Whereas Tanya who was “poor” and lived with her single mom drove a very black, very brand new car her dad had bought her.
But I wanted the role of the lone white girl, the Peggy Lipton–and, in fact, had to wrest the role from another white girl Tanya had adopted the year before. It was worth it.
Within a month of my new alliance, a creamy envelope arrived in the mail. It was from my city life: an invitation to the Debutante Ball. Oh God, what would Tanya have to say about this?