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Passing Privilege

The Unknown's picture

         There was a problematic interaction with close friends this past weekend that I have explored with them and want to reflect on further. The incident occurred after dinner with two friends, and one of the friend’s (who I will refer to as King) boyfriend. King has a German mother and Indian father, but has somewhat light skin. We were walking to King’s boyfriend’s car with my other friend who I will refer to as Toots. Toots is white. Toots was talking about how there are a lot of cops near the train station and the frequency of racial-profiling that goes on around Bryn Mawr. I responded that police are corrupt and need to pull over a certain amount of people to meet monthly quotas. There are police who pull over people of color all over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the country. Police pull over black and brown people at a much higher rate than white people. Toots responded, “We don’t have to be worried about being pulled over as much because of our privilege. We don’t need to be fearful of being killed by police.”

            First instinct: protect, stop, defend. I wanted King to feel included. I didn’t want to single her out because of her race. I didn’t want her to retreat. I assumed that because of her darker skin she could be pulled over by police more often than Toots or I. Did Toots make her feel uncomfortable? Yes, of course there is a racial hierarchy, with people on the spectrum of darkness of skin color endowed with more or fewer opportunities and are less or more likely to be pulled over by police, but Toots and I have more privileges than King and are white skin is seen as the norm or default. I felt that Toots took away King’s power, analysis, and control over the situation. I feel that Toots and I did not allow King space to reflect on the situation with us in the moment. Toots forced King to possibly confront trauma and racism more directly than she would have wanted to or was ready to in that moment.

            Further questions: What does it mean to be light-skinned, biracial? King said she’s not white enough to be white, or Indian enough to be accepted as fully Indian either. How does one navigate privileges connected to some parts of one’s identities and oppression connected to others?