Just Passing Through

Just Passing Through

by Catherine Atkins Greenspan


You probably have a whole book’s worth of stories about how people have been misled or mistaken about your multiracial identity, because they made assumptions about your appearance.

Well that happens for me every day. And I’m acutely aware of it when I’m situations where I know that people with darker skin might be scrutinized more harshly in ways that result in racial profiling.

One of the most dramatic examples for me happens down here in southern New Mexico, when Homeland Security SUVs appear suddenly from behind sagebrush and piñon pine on the remote roads while gigantic, imposing Checkpoint Charlies bring traffic on the main roads to a halt.

Drivers have to slow to a crawl as every vehicle approaches the forty or so cameras (seriously) before the actual stop-and-get-questioned. The whole vehicle gets sniffed if a Homeland K-9 is on duty.

Each time I approach, I am flooded with emotions about the reality of my white-looking appearance, knowing this experience would be different if my chromosomes had paired up differently.

At the gate, an always-extremely-serious Homeland agent awaits. I can see through his (it’s always a man) Foster Grants that he has sized up my car, its contents, and most importantly, me, the driver, and he has essentially checked out.

I know this is very serious and I am refraining from making any kind of joke, but when he says the perfunctory, non-question-question, “US citizen?” I might as well be driving through a California agricultural checkpoint inside the borders of that state. (If you’ve never had that experience, you basically get waved through unless you’re driving a semi-truck broadcasting your contents as Chiquita Bananas.) In fact, I think the occasional questioning, “Do you have any fresh fruit?” is probably a little more intense.

I wonder if someone is more likely to guess that I have fresh fruit on my person or in my car than the fact that I’m biracial.

As I accelerate away from the checkpoint, I feel a bit of relief and regret at the fact that I have been mis-judged, yet again, by the color my skin.

Again, another example of hiding in plain sight.

My whole life in a crowd of white people, there’s been an assumption that I am like everybody, right down to the Homeland agent.

I’ll never forget the first time someone in New York City spoke Spanish to my mother. We were surrounded by Spanish speakers, so they’d assumed that her non-white skin translated to como nosotros.

This is why I strongly believe we multiracial people should tell our stories! We see the world through different sets of eyes, so blog, journal, write a book, make a movie, record a podcast! We want to hear your thoughts and feelings, and how you coped or used your experiences as teachable moments for others.

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