Belonging, Citizenship and Racial Profiling, Part 2

I left something out of the last post – not because it wasn’t important, but because I didn’t want it to detract from the point I was trying to make about race-based exclusion. However, as you will see, it is related, and shows that, while my non-Chinese racial identity limits my belonging in China, my Western privilege remains unscathed.

When the police officers stopped my for my documents, I didn’t have them. All the passports tend to be in Jason’s posession over the weekend. Mondays, we generally do not leave campus so we do not need them. Tuesday is my work day and I take my own passport with me when I go to write. When I switch to a larger bag to take Mei-mei to Gymboree, I see my own passport and remember to take hers as well. The thing is, this week I went to the campus library instead, so I didn’t need my passport and, thus, had neither passport in my bag on Wednesday.

When the police officers stopped me, initially my stomach lurched witht he realization that I didn’t have my documents. I did however, have copies of my passport and visa. I apologized profusely and showed them the copies. They said something about how the copies were useless and I apologized again and engaged in a lengthy explanation of why I did not have the passports, where I lived, where I was coming from, and going to. As I spoke, I provided as supporting evidence for each of my claims my library card, Jie jie’s school ID, my gymboree membership card, and the address card for the international faculty hotel where we live. At this point, one of the police officers said that it was quite serious to be without my passport and they could charge me. I apologized again. But the thing was, by that time, I felt pretty certain that they would do nothing of the sort.

Of course, the experience of being stopped and without the proper documentation will insure that I always have said documents from now on. All the same, however, I marvelled at how privileged I was to speak the only language besides Chinese which the police officers could communicate in. If I did not speak English or Chinese and was caught without necessary documentation, I am sure the outcome would have been different. The second I pulled out a copy of my American passport, it seemed that the whole tenor of the encounter changed. I went from being a potential illegal immigrant to being an American at Sun Yat-Sen University.

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