I guess I should honestly be grateful! I mean, almost everyone is celebrating the election of Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected president of the United States! And I am grateful to have lived long enough to have seen a black man elected to the highest office in the land, but I also wasn't quite expecting a recent Twilight Zone experience that is purely an American experience based solely on race.
I earn my bread and butter as a private tutor. My students, for the most part are Asian, Taiwanese and Chinese. Over the years, twenty to be exact, I have patiently answered questions about if I am really an American that hails from Dayton, Ohio and I have been told more than once that I am a black Chinese.
To be quite truthful, I have never experienced the unspoken racial tension that can exist between whites and blacks with my Chinese students and and their parents. My business operates on word of mouth and over the years I have helped numerous Chinese families to realize their academinc dreams for their children. And yesterday was not supposed to be any different.
I had finished a brief SAT prep session with an American born Taiwanese student. After his birth he and his family returned to Taiwan for twelve years or so and then returned to the US so that he could complete his education in the US and go to a top-rated US university.
My student's mother is Chinese, but she was raised in Japan and even carries a Japanese first name. She is very proud of her acquired Japanese heritage and seems to be unconcerned about Japan invading China and the superiority complex that marks Japanese/Chinese relations.
So, as I was attempting to leave, my student's mother stopped me at the front door with an intriguing request: "Can you help me to find a house in a white neighborhood? I want to live in a white neighborhood with white people." My student almost fell off the couch but his mother proceeded without blinking. The dear lady was completely unaware of her faux pas. This is the same lady who just a few weeks ago offered me a watermelon in a gesture of kindness and I accepted her "gift" even though I am allergic to watermelon. It makes me itch!
Since I'm clearly black, her request was at once comical and baffling. But as I live and breathe the lady was quite serious. Her desire is to live in a rich white neighborhood, an investment in the future for her children. Our current neighborhood used to be ( not quite twenty years ago) a nice, white neighborhood before the late 1990's. In those days, my children were openly called "nigger" as they walked home from school by the local white folks. In those days, I and my children were an anomaly in the town and after the Ridney King riots I got to experience a bit of strange and misplaced racism from big white men at the grocery/video stores because at the time, these men thought that is was A-okay to ram a basket or an elbow into a less than 5' 2" black woman who most people still consider petite.
And then a strange thing happenedin this suburb. Rich Chinese arrived with suitcases filled with cash arrived in our little suburban neighborhood just east of the home of the annual Rose Parade. The local whites began to complain to me about the onslaught of Chinese. I, as a black person, became acceptable to whites in this suburb simply because, at least I wasn't an outsider.
I guess it's easy to see the irony of my position, but truthfully, I never thought that I'd live long enough to see a black man become president but I never thought that anyone would ask me to help them move to a rich, white neighborhood, at least without snickering.
And folks say that there hasn't been any progress in race relations over the last thirty years. Why I can almost believe the statements that I used to hear all too often from my employers twenty years ago: "Why girl, you're a credit to your race!"