I’m still getting used…

I'm still getting used to Oak Park. It's more city than many suburbs, but it's still a suburb. And it's pretty overwhelmingly white. Two recent incidents:

Incident one: I was on the porch of my house, trying paint samples on the wall. Two black men (in their 60's or so) walked by, and one of them called out to me, "I didn't know a black person bought that house!" He was clearly approving, maybe even proud. There are plenty of black people who own houses in Oak Park, but from what I've seen so far, they're more likely to own the smaller houses on the periphery, rather than the bigger ones in the center of town.

I smiled, and waved. I couldn't figure out what would be appropriate to say -- I didn't want to disclaim my blackness, because I thought that would come across as insulting, but I also felt odd taking 'credit' for being a black woman who'd managed to buy a big house. Especially given my Asian-American model minority privilege. My dad's a doctor, after all, and that certainly factored into where I've ended up financially. I didn't have to pay my own way through college, for just one example.

Incident two: Adriana and I were at the house weeding on Monday, trying to avoid a citation from the Village for the state of my lawn. A man came by dropping off flyers for a business; he paused and said something to me in Spanish. Adriana is Hispanic, and answered him, telling me that he was telling us that we should be wearing gloves. It was pretty clear from his demeanor that he felt sorry for us; he thought we were two girls hired by the homeowners to weed the yard, and we didn't even know enough to dress properly for the job.

I also get mistaken for the nanny sometimes when I'm out at the park with the kids (who have much lighter skin than I do). But that happened in Chicago too.

One thought on “I’m still getting used…”

  1. This reminds me of a (relatively) early _Dykes to Watch Out For_ strip, where Clarice is mistaken for a nanny in a suburban park where she has taken her son. (Biologically Raffi is her partner’s son – Clarice is black and Toni is Hispanic). Wonderful strip, but on hiatus at the moment, possibly permanently, as Alison Bechdel writes/draws other projects.

    It is difficult not to make assumptions. If the adult is the nanny, s/he is likely to look at you like you’re crazy if you ask if the child is theirs. There’s also the parent/grandparent mistake. Not to mention wife/daughter. *sigh*

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