The other day, as I was rounding the corner in my car and preparing to pull into my driveway, my neighbor Christina waved at me to stop. She looked exultant. "The kids got in," she said. "They got in!"
I was first startled by the news, then happy for her. And then I didn't know what to feel. We're in Inglewood. For months, Christina and her husband had been trying to enroll their teenage kids in El Segundo High School; El Segundo is not far west of us, but it's essentially another universe. A very pleasant town that, ethnically speaking, is about as hermetically sealed as they come in Southern California. I've been there countless times (just to visit, of course) and can count the number of black faces I've seen on two hands (and they were probably visiting too). I could count the number Asians and Latinos on maybe three. It was kind of astounding.
But there are a few ways to crack the seal. There's a state law that allows parents to cross district lines--to bail out-- if their local schools are low-performing and generally not up to snuff. The two high schools in Inglewood unfortunately fall in that category. Christina had been telling me how she and her husband had been petitioning El Segundo for admission since Christmas and getting a bureaucratic runaround that made her head spin. They didn't say no, but they didn't say yes either--they said come back tomorrow, we'll be back to you, that sort of thing. I was indignant on one hand, uneasy on the other. Of course she deserved equal consideration from El Segundo, which probably wasn't thrilled with the prospect of taking in kids from Inglewood. But Christina and her husband are exactly the sort of parents Inglewood schools need holding its feet to the fire; her kids are bright and creative and exactly the kind of students the community at large needs to thrive as a community.
I applauded her triumph, gave her a fist pump. But after I got home and thought about it, the triumph felt hollow. My garden looked less lovely. It was the old paradox of integration that was best expressed by a black oldtimer from the Eastside who put it this way after racial housing covenants were struck down in 1948: we got what we wanted, but lost what we had. We're still losing.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.