Lisa drives Starr and Sekani to Williamson Prep, passing by Carlos’s gated neighborhood on the way. Starr wonders if the gate is trying to keep people out or in. Upon arriving at school, Starr flips the “switch” in her brain to become “Williamson Starr,” the persona she inhabits to fit in with the posh, predominantly white world of Williamson. She avoids slang and “stank eyes,” and holds her tongue so that she won’t seem like a stereotypical “angry black girl.” Above all, she does not want anyone to think she is “ghetto.”
Starr “code switches” at Williamson as a measure of self-protection. Understanding white society’s assumptions about people like her, Starr feels pulled between two versions of herself throughout the novel. She experiences the “double consciousness” faced by black people seeing themselves through the eyes of a white society.
Starr greets her friend Maya, an Asian American student at Williamson whose boyfriend, Ryan, is the only other black student in their grade. Starr says that other students assumed she and Ryan would date because both are black. They find Hailey, Starr’s oldest friend at Williamson, and other members of the basketball team. As her friends talk about their extravagant spring breaks spent at fancy islands and amusement parks, Starr feels distinctly out of place once again. She also feels tension with Hailey, and notes that she has ever since Hailey unfollowed Starr’s Tumblr when she posted a photograph of Emmett Till. In their world, unfollowing a Tumblr is equivalent to saying, “I don’t like you anymore.” Starr also recalls that she and Hailey became close through grief; Hailey’s mother died of cancer around the same time that Natasha was killed.
The subtle prejudice of Williamson is evidenced by the fact that students assume “others” will self-segregate—that like will stick with like, and Starr would date the only black boy in her class. The stark contrast between Starr and her friends’ spring breaks further illustrates just how different life in Garden Heights is from anything Starr’s classmates have experienced. This moment further hints at Hailey’s discomfort with talking about race and foreshadows her later insensitivity towards Khalil’s death. Yet it also establishes that Hailey has faced hardship in her life too.
Before first period, Starr runs into Chris, whom she has been ignoring since he took out a condom while they were in his bedroom, despite her telling him she was not ready to have sex. Starr misses him, however, and finds herself unable to stay angry when Chris goofily raps the introduction to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Starr feels like she can be herself with Chris, rather than “Williamson Starr.” When Chris grabs her hand, however, she flashes back to Khalil’s shooting, unable to separate Chris’s whiteness from One-Fifteen’s. She recoils.
Starr and Chris bond over their shared love of certain elements of black culture. Chris’s goofy rapping reflects hip hop as a tool for catharsis and connection. Starr struggles to separate her anger over Khalil’s death due to racist violence from the fact that Chris is white, and thus cannot understand a fundamental aspect of her experience, and is also inextricably linked to perpetrators like One-Fifteen.
Though it feels like a betrayal, Starr is relieved that no one at school mentions Khalil. At the end of the day she finds Seven with his girlfriend Layla, another black student at Williamson who is “smart enough for Harvard but Howard bound.” Seven drives Starr and Sekani to the clinic where Lisa works. On the way, a police car pulls beside them at a stoplight. Tension fills the car. Seven immediately turns his music down and stares straight ahead, while Starr prays for the light to change. When it does, Seven lets the cop pass, but his shoulders remain tense until they reach the freeway.
Starr’s two identities continue to pull her in different directions and test her loyalty to Garden Heights. Starr has been traumatized by Khalil’s death and remains on edge around the police for much of the novel. Police brutality is such a reality in Garden Heights (as elsewhere) that Seven, too, grows tense and wary around cops despite knowing that he is doing nothing wrong.
The children arrive at the clinic and greet Lisa. Soon an anguished Brenda arrives, looking completely disheveled with dirty clothes and uncombed hair. She is beside herself over Khalil’s death, but Starr judges her in her grief, pointing out that she was not there for her son in his time of need. Lisa scolds Starr, asserting that she has no right to judge and that Brenda was Khalil’s mother no matter what either of them did.
Starr’s anger with Brenda stems in part from her own guilt; she feels that they both failed Khalil, and that Brenda does not deserve such an elaborate display of grief.