This story is part of a series that explore biracial identity. We encourage you to listen to the short audio pieces, each roughly 3-4 minutes long.
I’m 17, in the car with my dad as he’s driving down the hill from my high school in my mostly-white hometown.
My dad and I are singing to Les Miserables, The Confrontation. As
usual, he takes Javert’s part, I take Valjean, and as the parts overlap we
get louder and louder until one of us messes up their lyrics. My friend is in
the backseat, laughing. My dad is slowing down as he flicks on the signal to
turn onto our street.
He suddenly gasps in pain. His leg is cramping, so he pulls over quickly and turns the car off. He opens the door and slowly steps out, stretching his leg. We are so close to my house that I could’ve gotten out and walked home.
I’m staring at my phone when I see flashing red and blue behind us. We haven’t been parked for more than two minutes, and there is a cop car pulling over. I shove my phone into my lap and my heart is racing. My dad, a Black man, is pacing on the sidewalk, while my white friend and I - a mixed teenager - sit in the car. Images of my neighborhood flash in my mind: Black people don’t live here.
When the officer opens his door to step out, his Blackness relieves me for a second before his uniform and holstered gun come into focus. I can hear my heart. The conversation is muffled by the windshield, but I can hear the officer ask “what’s going on here, sir?” My dad straightens up and explains the situation, while the officer directs his flashlight at our car, bright in my eyes.
I know I’m safe, inside the car, passing for white, but I am panicking for my dad. They’re just talking, no voices are raised. I hold my breath until the cop returns to his car, and my dad slowly walks back to us. My dad’s jaw is clenched as he starts the car. He doesn’t turn the music back on.
When we pull into our driveway, I’m relieved to be home. My friend and I head upstairs and sit down on my bed. I’m explaining my frustration, my anger that my dad cannot walk freely just because of his skin, my fear that this was just a lucky pass: how I watched the cop’s hands until he got back into his car. I can see doubt flash across her face. She says, “I’m not sure that’s really what was going on.”
We change the subject, I pocket my anger, but it is years before I realize even my closest friends can’t see the world the way I do.