The Day I Passed for White

The Day I Passed for White


Kelly McWilliams

Illustration By Elizabeth Montero for TIME

Kelly McWilliams is the author of the upcoming Mirror Girls, a novel about sisterhood and passing.

As a light-skinned Black woman, I have purposefully passed for white only once in my life.

Which is not to say I haven’t passed unintentionally many times—especially as a young adult, away from home for the first time. When white folks around me vented their subterranean racism (“Black kids only get into college because of affirmative action, you know”), I liked to consider myself a warrior—a masked superspy. I always pushed back against this covert racism—the off-color jokes, the insider whispers. (“I would never date a Black man, they’re all on drugs.” “My roommate’s hair smells, you know, like them.”) Importantly, I always revealed my own racial identity as quickly as possible…

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