“Congratulations, sir,” the officer sighed. Paul remembered him sighing in a mystifying way. Maybe it was a sigh of exhaustion or disbelief. Possibly it was incredulity. However, it didn’t change what had come next: “in the eyes of your government and its people, you are hereby ‘White.’”
Paul had begun the work innocuously enough. Asking the IRS that his tax forms represent him as a White man. It had started as a joke, but when the response from the IRS Auditor had indicated a thread of consideration for the matter, Paul had grabbed hold of it and tugged at it, and continued tugging for years.
Paul’s parents had worked hard into a comfortable middle class lifestyle which they had passed down to their son as his own foundation. Paul had gone through good public school districts to a private college from which he’d worked his way into the same middle class space. If not his experiences, then certainly the modesty of his and his parents’ achievements and lifestyle in America humbly afforded him the option of being considered White.
That proposition had taken him through the IRS, NIS, NSA, CIA, FBI, AARP, and a couple dozen other offices with tidy acronyms. The road there had turned him into something of a celebrity: the man of color wishing to be considered White by his nation.
He’d been lambasted as a “race traitor” the whole way, with increasing vitriol the further into the process of White-naturalization that he had progressed. Debates over the intellectual and legal implications of the decision and the fact that government agencies were even entertaining the pursuit had run amok.
Even to this day his name was still invoked in think pieces, and the “Paul demographic” had been referenced in elections forecasting since then. The Paul demo were the middle class non-White of White means and circumstance. They were a growing demographic though only moderately vocal and, on average, center-left in their politics.
That was all more than a decade ago. His status and papers had been handed over to him just in time for a presidential election within the same year, and he’d thoroughly enjoyed submitting his papers for review to the journalists with whom he polled.
Less a practical joke, but more a validation was that he polled more or less within the demographic of a White, educated male as his papers proclaimed him to be (Democrat leaning with select conservatism on state fiscal propositions).
The papers were in his coat pocket. When he’d received them, (a stamped and sealed certificate which he had framed in his home office, an ID card and long-form racial reallocation papers), he had been issued the advice to always keep some form of the papers on him. One couldn’t blame fellow citizens from potentially needing proof of his status.
They didn’t come in handy every day, but Paul liked to quote his father and say: “better to have and not need than to need and not have.” Carrying the ID card wherever he went in his wallet was standard practice. If nothing else, it always made for some fun conversation while in line at Starbucks.
The papers had been useful in some more important instances: the last two jobs he’d hired had called him back the same day he’d submitted his resume, one for an interview the other with an on the spot offer. He arrived to the home he purchased in a gated community to a front porch filled with baskets of muffins and cakes, as well as a letter inviting him to the Homeowner’s Association meeting and slyly informing him a seat on the board was up for election in the coming months.
His job in Business Development was a great step up from Human Resources Administrator position he’d started in before becoming White. Plus, and he didn’t admit this often, Paul enjoyed the feeling of freedom to take long lunches. He could certainly afford them now that he was making a decent salary, and he knew well enough that his performance wouldn’t be undermined by an extra half hour here and there. Even if it were, that was his boss’ problem, he’d find a more suitable job.
This Tuesday he’d felt the itch for something spicy. He’d gotten a tip from a food blog he subscribed to that there was a huarache spot across town worth his time. The streets were not friendly for parking so he’d ended up parking several blocks away on a quiet residential street and enjoying the walk through the crisp autumn afternoon to the spot.
The lunch had been good, if a little heavy on the cilantro and onions. He had carried half of it away in a to go box and was on his way back to his car when he finally heard the commotion over the week’s episode of This American Life he was listening to on his break.
The officer had gotten on his loudspeaker to be heard. By the look on the officer’s face leaning out the passenger side window with the microphone in his hand, Paul surmised the officer had been trying for his attention for some time already.
Paul was trying to figure out the situation as he removed his iPhone airbuds because he clearly heard the officer telling him to put his hands up.
Paul couldn’t see any evidence of the cause of the commotion, but he might have heard the gunshot in the distance of a store manager being shot in armed robbery just after his leaving his lunch spot. Paul was receiving orders to put his hands up again, and actually raised his eyebrows in confusion.
The officer in the driver’s seat had gotten out and, keeping the engine block of the vehicle between them, was telling Paul to get his fucking hands up.
Paul was taken aback, offended even, and slowly raised his hands halfway, careful to keep his huarache level so it didn’t get messed up. He stammered out a question to the officers what this was about.
Both officers shouted over each other. Both shouted something about a shooting, black man matching description, get your fucking hands in the air.
Paul nodded and thought of the ID card. He tried the same tone he used to reveal the tidbit of being White at parties, hoping it would defuse the situation.
He told the officers he was actually a White man.
The officers called him crazy and told him to get his fucking hands up.
He told them he had papers.
They told him to get on his fucking knees.
He got on his knees and reached into his coat pocket.
His huarache fell to the ground, into a mess over the cracked gray cement.