Anonymous: I'd be interested to hear about your experiences as a black person in China. Have you encountered any difficulties? Have things changed since you first moved to China seven years ago, and if so, how?He didn't really answer the question. I remember the notorious Newsweek exposé of racist babies, but I'm sure the questioner had nonbabies in mind. Ndesandjo made an elegant decision not to talk about the worst things that had happened to him, I think. Over the years, various Chinese adults must have said bad things, snubbed him, discriminated against him, or threatened him. He doesn't say they didn't. He doesn't say everyone's been just wonderful. He says he's "generally been very happy" — note the generally. So I assume he's got his collection of racial anecdotes, and he chose not to go there. He spoke of the babies at some length, then shifted to the subject of the things he has done to connect with the people — marrying a Chinese woman, speaking the language, being open to the culture, and doing charitable acts. These are all things he has done for the benefit of others.
Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo: Thank you for your question. In my book, there is a scene where Spring (David's love) visits a Shenzhen orphanage for the first time. In a room filled with 60 cots, baby in each cot, she puts out her hand to one of the babies in the cot. Its big, black eyes look up at her and it grasps her finger and refuses to let go.
This happened to me too. The baby didn't think of black or white or yellow or brown. I have lived in Shenzhen for almost seven years. I speak the language and am married to a Chinese woman. Speaking for myself, I have generally been very happy while I have been here. The key is to have an openness and curiosity about the culture and it very much helps to give back or help those in need.
It's a contrast to the way his brother addresses the subject of race:
... my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.Barack Obama displays his collection of personal racial experiences for us to contemplate. He doesn't eclipse them and — like Ndesandjo — deflect the subject to our shared humanity and what we can do for others. And yet, I don't know what Ndesandjo would say if we had the opportunity to listen to him longer, if he were already embraced and given trust and power, and — most importantly? — if he were living, not in China, but in the United States. And Barack Obama himself moved into power and gained our trust by speaking of shared humanity and service to others.