Passing for white and straight: How my looks hide my identity

Passing for white and straight: How my looks hide my identity


Koa Beck
Brooklyn, New York

I’m neither straight nor white, but I’m frequently mistaken for both — and it’s taught me a lot about privilege

I first became aware of my passing as a young child confronted with standardized testing. My second grade teacher had walked us through where to write our names in capital letters and what bubbles to fill in for our sex, our birth date and ethnicity. But in the days before “biracial” or “multiracial” or “choose two or more of the following,” I was confronted with rigid boxes of “white” or “black” – a space that my white father and black-Italian mother had navigated for some time.

But even at 8 years old, I knew I could mark “white” on the form without a teacher’s assistant telling me to do the form over with my No. 2 pencil. I could sometimes be “exotic” on the playground to the grown-ups who watched us for skinned knees and bad words. But with hair that had yet to curl and a white-sounding last name, I was at first glance – and many after – a dark-haired white girl with a white father who collected her after school…

…Because with my invisibility has come her privilege, an experience that has undeniably marked most of my life.  Due to my passing, I have the W.E.B. Du Bois-patented “double consciousness” for the opportunities that have been placed before me, scholastic and professional, from generally white and hetero establishments that look at me and always see their own. Is it the presumed commonality that garnered me those interviews? Those smiles? Those callbacks? Those firm handshakes?

When I read statistics about how employers are more likely to hire white people than people of color, I know that I can count myself in the former, despite the fact that I identify as the latter. I’m hyper-aware that when a bank, a company or any public office hears the sound of my voice and reads my legal first name (under which this article does not appear), they assume that they’re talking to a white woman, and therefore give me better service…

…My privilege in passing reflects a racism and heterosexism that continues to flourish, despite romantic notions that racial mixing and gay marriage will create a utopian future free of prejudices…

Read the entire article here.

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