In School Daze, Lee used the conflict between Da Naturals and the Gamma Rays to engage the subject of color caste within Black communities. Rachel and Da Naturals are dark skinned with natural hair and are portrayed as distinctly working class. In contrast, the Gamma Rays are light-skinned with relaxed and dyed weaves and brightly colored contact lenses. The subordinate “sister” sorority to the Gamma Dogs, the Rays are portrayed as upper-middle class. They look down on Da Naturals, calling them “jigaboos” and mocking their wild kinks. Da Naturals ridicule the Gamma Rays for their affected aesthetic and mannerisms, calling them “wannabe White.”
This class conflict inscribed on intra-racial variation seems unambiguous at first. The Gamma Rays look down on Da Naturals for being backward and dark, and Da Naturals resent the Gamma Rays for being uppity and light-skinned, pretending to be something they are not. But this is complicated later on during the scene where Rachel goes to Dap’s dorm room and they hook up. Rachel, fresh from her dance battle with the Gamma Rays, actually criticizes Dap’s stubborn distaste for the Rays. “I know I have my problems with them,” she says, “but with you it’s a crusade. I’m beginning to think you’re color struck; you definitely have a thing against light-skinned Blacks” [41:30].
I realized at this moment that I had misunderstood Rachel’s issue with the Rays. Beyond resenting their rejection of natural Black physical appearance, Rachel pitied the Rays’ overt insecurity. She recognized that their desire to be better than natural had an external source and could empathize with their pain. Rachel scolded Dap for his inability to recognize this. Rachel’s empathetic observation is complimented by Keith John’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “I can only be me” in the next sequence. “You can only be you as I can only be me.” Rachel hopes that Dap will eventually extend the same empathy to the Gamma Rays that he extends to the group of townies at the KFC when he tells them that they are not ni**as.