The Conversation: Colorism, the Police and the Black Community
During our random errands, my son opened the glove compartment to grab his book and he noticed the ticket. It was a moving violation I had received a few months prior. He asked, “What’s this for?” Though I casually went into the story, the following is from my written account just after the event.
About a year ago I was on my way to go hiking in Napa. I was in my driving flow when I saw the police car to my right and instinctively let my foot off the gas. I saw I was driving 70 mph when I saw his lights flashing in my rearview mirror. “Shit!” I exclaimed loudly and pulled off the freeway. I pulled out my Driver’s Licence and insurance, rolled down the window, and waited for his questions.
“Do you know how fast you were driving,” he asked.
I said, “I saw 70,” to which he replied, “Do you know the speed limit?”
“I did not see it posted, but aren’t you allowed to go up to 70?” He claimed, “only on I-5.”
“So you weren’t paying attention?, he asked.
“Actually yes,” I then said in my most educated voice, “I was actually listening to a fascinating book on CD regarding Functional Diagnostic Nutrition.”
He stared at me blankly. I then looked at him and with attitude said, “Well I was going with the flow of traffic. With all the people driving, how come you chose me to pull over?”
“Cause I clocked you going the fastest,” he said. I remember the conversation as if it just happened.
He asked me if this was my address on the driver’s license. I told him it was my last address. He asked for my current address. I told him my mailing address. He asked why it was not on my license. I told him “Cause we were having housing challenges and my friends are nice enough to allow me to use their address to have a consistent mailing address. I did not think to put it on my license.”
He told me, “I’m writing you a fix-it ticket.” I looked at him and said, “So you’re penalizing me for having housing challenges?” To which he replied, “Look, you can either pay a $25 fix-it ticket or a $500 speeding ticket, take your pick.” I turned my head away and when he was done, he handed me the ticket. I slowly drove off as I watched him in my rear view mirror.
After telling the story I looked over at my son who looked at me horrified and said, “Mommy, he could’ve killed you.” I said casually, “Oh honey, he probably didn’t know I was Black.” My son looked at me and said, “How could he not know you were Black?”
I looked at him, took a deep breath and actually realized what I said. How my son feared for my life as he’s growing up in a generation where police brutality is more than just something Black and Brown folks know exists, it’s a bold reality blasted all over social media on a daily basis. How he sees me as a Black Woman, but he knows nothing about how many people do not because of my light skin. I realized that I was about to have a discussion with my son that I never thought would exist after I declared in my early 20's I would be a part of ending. I thought about the beauty of how my son has been raised to see the rich diversity within the African Diaspora. That he knows Black folks come lighter than me to the deepest Blue Black that encompasses our vast cultures. I took a deep breath and told him about Colorism.
We talked about the history of how lighter and darker skinned Black folks were pitted against one another when Africans were enslaved. We talked about how it still has an affect within the Pan-African community. I told him how many people within our community were raised with the belief that “lighter is better,” and the level of privilege that created. My son replied, “Well that’s stupid!”
I did go back and discuss police brutality. I also addressed his fears and concerns over my safety. What I wished I could’ve done was assure him that he and other more melaninated folks would be safe if ever pulled over or confronted by the police. I could not.
Thank you for reading! Blessings!