This morning at the gym the Beta Racquetball Group was finishing up as I was doing my lat pull downs. The Chairman was regaling them with a story about an interaction he had with our local law enforcement yesterday. Seems he got stuck in the traffic jam Greenpeace caused by shutting down the St. John's bridge.
"...so he waves me through and I'm going through then he starts screaming at me, 'Back up! Back up! Back up!' So I back up. Then he's yelling, 'PULL OVER! RIGHT NOW!' So I pull over. He storms up to the window and asks for my license and registration and tells me the fine for driving through the cones is $586. I tell him,'You waved me through.' He SCREAMS at me, 'I did not wave you through!' so I say, 'I sure hope your dash camera doesn't have a malfunction then because when I fight this ticket I'm going to want that footage. I did exactly what you told me to do, you waved me through.' And he yells at me AGAIN, 'I did NOT wave you through.' I tell him, 'I've done nothing wrong and I want your badge number for my records as well.' So then he tells me, 'Just calm down, sir.' and I say, 'I'm calm. I've done nothing wrong.' and then he says, 'I will let you go with a warning.' So I tell him, 'Oh no. I insist you give me the citation. We're seeing this through...'"
And the whole time his buddies are giving appreciative laughs and oh yeahs. Like you do when a friend tells you a story where they were being a badass and getting away with it. Funny thing is not once did one of them say, "Wow. Weren't you worried about getting arrested, pulled from the car, tased, shot?" Never once. And here is where my own pre-judging comes in...I know at least one of them has an Obummer bumper sticker on his truck and I had to wonder if his take on Sandra Bland was the same as his take on his buddy. Or if his buddy had gotten shot if when the video was released he would have said, "Well, he shouldn't have gotten snippy with an officer of the law. You just don't do that."
That's privilege. When you don't even consider the fact that you behave in a way that is reflective of your color. That's privilege. I wrote about yelling at the Sheriff here and then what could have happened here.
A few weeks ago having dinner with our friend Eric he was telling us a story about driving through the south last summer. He's in a band and they had some gigs and then were driving to meet their families for more music and some vacation. He's African America, there is a Native American guy, a Mexican guy and I think he said an Asian guy in the van. Sounds like the start of a joke right? A black guy, a Native American guy, an Asian guy and a Mexican guy drive through the south in a van...what's the punchline? They got pulled over in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. See? It's funny because it's racist. They didn't get pulled over for breaking any laws, not speeding, not failure to signal, not reckless driving, just driving while ethnically diverse.
I'm sassier. I'm meaner. I'm less likely to be as respectful as I should be. I'm more likely to speed. And I'm less worried about getting pulled over than Eric. A teacher. A family man. A man who is teaching the Wee Sing Praise VBS at his church this week. But I'm whiter. Far, far, whiter so I'm less likely to face getting pulled over in the first place. Less likely to have my "sassy mouth" become an issue during a stop. And less likely to even consider those factors while out driving.
That's what makes it privilege. Because I don't even think about it on a day to day basis.
I know people hate to address it. It makes them think they are being accused of being a racist if they admit that they have had benefits because of their skin color. It makes them feel like they didn't work as hard for what they have. Like it was just given to them. I get all of that. But it doesn't make it any less true. If you are white. If you are a white male especially. The systems that we have in place were set up by other white men and are set up to benefit you. The fact that we think of white as the baseline that other than white is what we are talking about when we talk about equality. That's what it means.
I'm not asking you to do anything else except pay attention. To start to notice how your life is different. How comfortable are you smarting off to a cop? How insulted would you be if someone assumed you couldn't afford to shop in a store the instant you walked in? How pissed would you be if someone you didn't know called you sweetie and tried to explain how the car you built from engine block out, worked? Once you start paying attention then you should be willing to accept that things need to change.
Because they do need to change.
United States of America.
All men are created equal.
With liberty and justice for all....