It's hard to go through those high school years, especially if you weren't one of the the "it" people. I have three teens now that I really emphasize the if 'they' don't like it( whatever 'it' happens to be at that moment), then 'they' they are the losers not you.Your choice is the important one. I have also taught them to not conform just because someone else tells them to do something, look a certain way.It has caused a few problems with teachers at times, but more often it has taught them not to feel bad about themselves just because of what someone else says.
I have found , and I hope that you have too, that those high school heros often turn out to be unsuccessful in the rest of their lives. They peaked early, and it was downhill after that.
Zora has mentioned on at least two occasions that her early years were not shall we say Ozzie and Harriet perfect. She alluded that the past is the past, and she is uncomfortable even talking about it. That plays a huge part in her behavior , and lack of trust.
I really don't think Melissa was being racist with the ethnic looking
statement. It sounds like something she has been told in the past about herself, and is parroting without much thought.