Trying To Pass

This is from Mat Johnson’s interview on Fresh Air about Loving Day.

But, yeah, I mean, there’s points now – I mean, I don’t actively try to pass, but I know my privilege. You know, all this stuff, like, me, like, dealing with the issues I had of looking the way I did, I mean, they’re nothing compared to issues that many African-Americans have to deal with in this country. You know, I got pulled over by the cops on the way to this interview (laughter) today… Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, it was completely my fault (laughter). I mean, I didn’t update my tags on my car. It was no biggie. It was no – no drunken, you know, car chase, but it was still, you know – it’s always scary, you know? And when that cop came to the window, I did my best Caucasian, you know? My grammar was perfect. I did everything I could in that moment to be nonthreatening. And I know part of that is not, you know, having him perceive me as black ’cause I know that can end up getting me killed. It can, so I have to…

This reminded me of trying to pass for black in west Texas returning from Arizona to not get shipped to Mexico.

But, I do “my best Caucasian” when a police officer stops me. These are tense, careful moments. Pre-9/11, I only had to deal with Driving While Black, basically stops for no reason. In the few years after 9/11, I also had to deal with Driving While Middle Eastern. I got a couple warnings over broken brake lights, which are fine. I had two cars where a plastic piece sheared making the brake lights not light up three times. But, I also got three stops for no reason. The officer just wanted a closer look and decided there was nothing of interest and cut me loose.

As I got older, these happened less frequently. Since moving to a college town, I have not gotten stopped for no reason. They have always been for something I actually did.

I should use my best African or Caucasian for airline agents so as to not get selected for the extra TSA check.


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