Especially starting in the spring of 2020, we started talking more about white privilege. I started to hear time and time again from people that it simply did not exist. They would refer to difficulties that they had experienced in childhood, younger years, or occasionally today. I don’t quite understand why it is such a difficult concept to understand. But no matter how I try, I can’t seem to get it across to some people.
Robin Diangelo shares a definition of this on page 24 of my copy of White Fragility [see below] as such: “a sociological concept referring to advantages that are taken for granted by whites and that cannot be similarly enjoyed by people of color in the same context (government, community, workplace, schools, etc.)”
She then goes on to explain further. I want to print it on index cards to pass out to people when this discussion comes up. She says:
“[L]et me be clear: stating that racism privileges whites does not mean that individual white people do not struggle or face barriers. It does mean that we do not face the particular barriers of racism.”
I was staying over at a friend’s house and she had seen the book in my things. (I admit that I purposely left it visible because part of me was hoping to elicit a bit of discussion.) So the one morning, over mimosas, she asked me about this book that I was reading. I tried to explain white privilege, but apparently, my little elevator speech wasn’t good enough. I tried to use the example of getting pulled over and how we as white women were more likely to get a warning and not a ticket. Her reply? “I always get a ticket!”
Oh, how I wish I could have had that conversation with her a few weeks later. By then, I had an even better example.
I was having a late lunch at my neighborhood bar and grill. One of my buddies came in and sat with me. We started talking about stuff, including white privilege and having to read this book. We compared tales of being pulled over for the same reason in the same town on almost the same stretch of road.
In my case, it was just after dusk. I admit I had just run through the McDonalds drive-thru and got some chicken nuggets to hold me over for a bit. My guess is that the cop saw my hand near my mouth and assumed I was on the phone.
When he pulled me over, he noticed that my inspection was out of date. By a lot. I had a multitude of excuses. I had been extremely ill and hospitalized and then my mom died and I was still recovering and my mechanic had randomly shut down. He took pity on me and let me go. (I did get the inspection done soon after that, though.)
Compare that to my friend’s story. He was driving with his two young sons in the back seat. He wasn’t even eating or on his phone or anything like that. Just driving. He gets pulled over.
His registration had just expired the week before. He had meant to renew it, but life got in the way. (Hey, it happens.) He was told to get out of the car and was handcuffed in front of his young sons and was taken to the station. No priors, nothing. He’s actually what one would call “a fine, upstanding citizen” and active as a deacon in his church. But he’s also Black.
And don’t try to tell me it was justifiable because his registration was expired. I was once driving out in the boonies, trying to find my way to a little pub where my friends’ band was playing. I wasn’t as familiar with the roads and was following the car in front of me. I was more focused on that and missed the speed limit change. But I am the one who got pulled over.
That was when I found out my registration had been suspended. I had no idea why and it didn’t show why in the computer. (Turns out there was an lapse between my insurance expiring and my payment arriving on time, thanks to a glitch with a holiday, and I didn’t realize it.)
But the officer let me go and told me to get in touch with the DMV first thing Monday morning. (Which I did and got it all straightened out.)
Do you think the same courtesy would have been afforded to my friend?
As our conversation continued, he told me that he refuses to be in that suburb if he can avoid it, but especially after dark. He has been needlessly pulled over other times, despite committing no infractions, and has been harassed.
I have another friend who is a Black man who tells of the day he was out driving his brand new car. (I apologize that the make and model escape my memory right now.) He was pulled over because the officer was convinced he had stolen it. “This is too nice of a car for someone like you to be driving,” he was told.
The officer only backed down when my friend got out of the car (as he was asked) and the officer realized he was in military uniform.
I have heard dozens of such stories, from many friends of color. I’m sure you have, too. And I could give countless examples of how I have benefited from my privilege as a white woman. Perhaps I will share more later, if it feels pertinent to a post.
But for now, I encourage you to think of your own privilege and how it has benefited you, in spite of any hardships you have faced.
Purchase a copy ofWhite Fragility and join in a conversation with me! You can purchase the same edition I have by clicking on the picture below. You get a good read and I get to earn a few pennies at no additional cost to you!