A Story About Being Mislabeled

Emily Cashour
7 min readApr 25, 2019
my mom & I

What does it mean, to feel like your skin is never really the right color?

The other day in a grocery store in West Oakland, a man slightly darker in color than my dad told me I had beautiful skin. I had spent a few days in New Orleans, baking without sunscreen in an attempt to make myself browner, more obviously colored. He asked me what I was, and I told him I was mixed, somewhat simply, with black and white. He went to give me that handshake that white people don’t know how to do, and I was terrified of doing it wrong, of betraying myself as not enough of what I had told him I was.

He wanted me to get involved in some sort of training to become some sort of financial something, a way, he communicated, for me to make upwards of $10K a month. I had stumbled through describing what I do for a living, the way that I find myself doing often to strangers lately. He wanted me to jump on a conference call with some woman whose name I forget, and after taking his number, I texted him my name for some reason, intrigued about making that much money in a month, but afraid of him a little, for the way he insisted without listening that he knew what was best for me, and was only here to help. I was afraid to say yes to him, and to say no to him, the same way I am afraid of my dad.

Later, I had only gotten halfway through the grocery list I keep on my phone, and I was bent down in an aisle full of soup cans and instant mashed potatoes and ramen noodles. I heard a voice behind me, and I turned to see a police officer, with a soft face and a soft stomach and a hard uniform. He appeared to be addressing me, when he said “Ma’am, you’ve been 86'ed from this store, for shoplifting. I need you to come with me.”

Obviously he had made a mistake, and I told him so. But he led me forward, to the front of the store, where he told me another officer would need to identify me, and if I was who he thought, he would need to handcuff me and take me to the police station. I went to get my license out of my wallet, and he waved for me to put my arm down. “I don’t need to see your ID, I need an officer to ID you.”

By this point, we had gotten to another police officer at the front of the store; he looked at me and smiled in the way of people who know they have power over you. “I haven’t seen her since…



Emily Cashour

27 year old writer & graduate student, passionate about storytelling as a great equalizer. Email:egcashour@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!!