Cops Ignore Me Because I Have Light Skin - That Just Reaffirms Their Racism
In a few days I will pack up my car, harness my dog in his seat and drive 200-something miles to Philadelphia to start a new job.
I drive a lot, and I flout the rules of the road. I find people obeying the speed limit in the left lane to be incredibly offensive, so I bully them out of my way. I weave in and out of cars I find to be too slow. I have created entire playlists on my phone’s Spotify while driving. I have checked my makeup in the mirror. I play my music loudly. And when I see a cop car, I turn the volume up.
Alcohol used to exacerbate this deep resentment of men in blue. In my drinking days, I would pick fights with the police, with chest bumps and curses in the mix. I have thrown things at officers. I only remember flashes of these scenes now, and I’ve never had a negative encounter with the cops that was unfounded. It’s always been me with the problem. But they’ve always forgiven me my lapses in judgment.
Have I mentioned that I’m black?
Here’s the thing: I’m a light-skinned black woman with dark, thick, long hair, and I come from a long line of the same. And because of my light skin tone, police, your eyes pass over me. You’ve been taught to profile my body, too.
You think I’m pretty; you think I’m harmless; you think I’m accessible. You think I have a nice smile and am friendly and polite. You appreciate my tone and how gently I nod my pretty head. You comment that I look like Kerry Washington, and I bat my eyes and laugh. You think I am attractive and accessible in a way you can’t fully express but you feel nonetheless.
You don’t see me as a threat. But there’s a key difference between being treated nicely and being ignored. When the cops ignore me or assume I’m obedient, I shoot daggers with my eyes.
If you really were good at your jobs, sophisticated in your racism, you’d be coming after me. I don’t respect you, and I don’t plan to. I profile bodies in blue. While you’re eyeing the 12-year-old black boys, I’m thinking about ways to grab your guns and hold you hostage.
Here’s a funny story: part of my grandfather’s family separated from the clan and passed for white. But my grandfather believed in a different kind of passing, a belief he passed onto his children and to me. We learned to grow our hair long, turn our noses up, smile wide and to be as surprisingly, unapologetically black as possible. To pass under the radar without compromising our blackness.
You fall for it: you see my lighter skin and think that means we’re closer. You see my smile and how pleasant my voice rings and how my hairstyles are just like your sister’s, and you think I’m approachable and nice. You think I am one of the good ones. You are wrong. You have failed; you are shooting the wrong ones.
I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen when I drive tomorrow. I’ll fill up my tank, put on my playlist, pet my dog and get on the road. I will speed, I will play the bass hard, I will get distracted and you men in blue will ignore me. You’ll keep looking for my male and darker-skinned brethren in what you deem to be the wrong things – cars that are too nice or have minuscule problems you wouldn’t notice if I was driving. Because you’ve been taught to see certain bodies as wrong in certain spaces.
Meanwhile, I will be sneaking past you in plain sight.
Y’all been profiling the wrong ones. Blackness and black pride has no tone or shade. When white people smile at us more, welcome us more or ignore us while outwardly hating our darker-skinned comrades, we don’t think it’s a compliment.