“What, you think if you live next door to them, they’ll treat you different?”  

“Why does it always have to be about race with you?” Uncle Carlos asks.

This argument between Maverick and Uncle Carlos, Starr’s two father figures, is emblematic of Starr’s internal struggles between two ideas of Blackness. Maverick champions a self-reliant Blackness based in the Black Power movement, and to him the idea of moving to a primarily white neighborhood implies a futile attempt to assimilate into white culture. Uncle Carlos focuses on individual excellence, self-improvement, and creating societal change through mainstream structures, like law enforcement, independent of race. Starr must learn to reconcile her Garden Heights upbringing (Maverick) with her life at Williamson (Uncle Carlos).

That’s when I realized Williamson is one world and Garden Heights is another, and I have to keep them separate.

Starr sees her identity as a Black teenager divided between her two worlds, each of which has a distinct set of acceptable behaviors. This quote in particular refers to the moment when neither of her closest Williamson friends will sleep over at her house because her neighborhood frightens them. They cannot handle the full context of where she comes from. However, as Starr notices at Big D’s party, her attendance at a fancy school alienates her from her Garden Heights peers. Starr is convinced that there is no way to be authentically herself anywhere.

Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

Starr’s checklist for how to behave while she’s at Williamson emphasizes how much of herself she has to repress. She must constantly self-scrutinize her words and body language, and she modulates her emotions to make sure she’s treated with the same respect as her peers and not dismissed. Notably, Starr’s list of ways to be approachable at Williamson involves shrinking herself, being quieter, and not expressing her own discomfort. This list contrasts notably with the outspoken, proud Blackness that Maverick champions.

Chris didn’t pull us over, he didn’t shoot Khalil, but am I betraying who I am by dating him?

Khalil’s murder has brought Starr’s consciousness of her Blackness to the forefront, which makes her reevaluate her choices.  Systemic racism means that Starr’s relationship with a white boy has symbolic implications. As someone who has been taught to love her Blackness and pursue Black liberation by Maverick, Starr wonders if loving a white boy means that she feels Blackness is unlovable. In addition, by dating Chris, she puts herself in closer proximity to whiteness, in the same way Uncle Carlos does by being a police officer and living in the suburbs.

I should be used to my two worlds colliding, but I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang, some attitude, but not too much attitude, so I’m not a “sassy black girl.”

Echoing her checklist from earlier in the novel, Starr’s evident panic at disappointing either her Williamson or Garden Heights friends highlights the extreme emotional toll of compartmentalizing herself. She believes that if she portrays a form of Blackness that’s unpalatable to either group, she’ll lose her friends. Fortunately, the group of friends at the party are people who truly love Starr for who she is. By the end of the party Starr stops analyzing her every action. Starr can just be Starr.