A Cop Stopped Choking Me When He Realized I Was White

How a traumatic encounter with a racist police officer 26 years ago still affects my life

Jason McBride
LEVEL
Published in
8 min readMay 9, 2019

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Police with man on the ground
Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Milpitas, California, was a strange place to grow up. With a population of 50,000 at the time, it was a small town by Bay Area standards. Located just north of San Jose and 45 minutes or so from San Francisco, Milpitas used to be a factory town, but the Ford plant closed years before my family moved there, leaving a host of environmental issues in its wake.

What was once a White town became a multiethnic melting pot. A Vietnamese family lived next door to us; a Filipino family lived across the street. Several Indian and Latino families lived on our street as well. One Black family lived on our block and a handful of other White and Asian families.

As far as I knew, there weren’t any racial tensions in our neighborhood. Most of the White people I knew growing up thought racism was an artifact of a different time and place — something from Nazi Germany or the Jim Crow South. Racial tensions might exist in Oakland to the north of us or parts of L.A., but in multiethnic Silicon Valley, we were too chill to have race issues.

I knew something most of my White peers didn’t, though: Racism was alive and well in Milpitas. There was a seething hatred of Black and Brown people hidden from “polite” White society. Casual racism also existed; once you were attuned, it was everywhere.

I didn’t know either officer’s name, and I wouldn’t be able to describe them. Plus, I doubted anyone would care about my story.

I have what one friend’s mom called a “southern Mediterranean” complexion. I have dark brown eyes and hair. Back when I was a teenager, spending all summer outside swimming, biking, and camping, I never sunburned, and my skin took on a deep bronze color.

My complexion gave me a certain racial ambiguity. No Black or Brown person ever mistook me for anything other than a White boy, but suspicious White people sometimes puzzled over my origins.

When I walked alone, angry White dudes — always White dudes — would yell at me out of their car…

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Jason McBride
LEVEL
Writer for

Freelance Writer & Illustrator | Poet & Visual Essayist | Amateur Human | he/him https://weirdopoetry.com/newsletter/