Skip to main content

I experienced white privilege this morning.

It came to me without my seeking it, just as it will come to you if you are white, and you will benefit from it whether you want to or not. White privilege is the air we breathe.

Here's what happened to me today...

I went downtown this morning to have breakfast with a friend in the restaurant of a fancy hotel. There are many such here in my hometown, a Gulf Coast resort popular with older Northerners and conservative to the core.  I work in jeans, so this day off I decided to look sharp. Cleaned up and well dressed, I blended easily with the (white) locals. A quarter mile or so from the hotel, I was stopped by the police ostensibly for ignoring a stop sign.

I'd been through that intersection well over a thousand times on the way to and from work for six years. Everyone who lives or works in the neighborhood knows the city police hang out there waiting to pounce on drivers who ignore that stop sign. It's not a dangerous intersection; you can only turn right from where I was, and with no traffic coming from the left, the utility of a stop sign (for reasons of safety, anyhow) is questionable at best.

More to the point, I stopped at the sign. Only out-of-towners and drunks get popped at that intersection, and it happens many times a week.  The cops wouldn't be waiting there if it didn't.

The cop pulled me over maybe 100 feet away and explained why he was stopping me. I knew I had stopped and told him so, firmly. As he went off to check my license and registration I started shaking with rage. A vast overreaction, to be sure, but not a voluntary reaction, either. I don't like the cops, don't trust the cops, and my respect for authority of any kind has always been...let's call it "contingent".

He returned with my ID and told me he was going to write a citation. I told him he was mistaken and did so with the coldest courtesy I could summon, not particularly caring whether he liked my tone. I was still shaking with anger at his dishonesty, at his casual assumption that I could be shaken down for the cost of a ticket with no recourse.

"Sir, I was sitting right there [pointing to a spot near the intersection] and observed you rolling past the sign. If you stopped, it must have been twenty feet behind the line where I couldn't see you."

"That's not correct, officer. I've been though this intersection countless times, and I know the police watch it. And I've walked this street enough to know you CAN see at least 50 feet behind the line. So there's no way you could have missed it. And if you want to take it to court, I can take pictures of the intersection and prove it."

I had him, on that fact anyway. Maybe he wasn't used to being resisted? Either way, he backed down after a couple more yes-you-did-no-I-didn't exchanges. And still very angry, I drove away to meet my friend.

The point of all this? I didn't spend a moment worrying that I would be shaken down for worse than a ticket, taken to jail, beaten, or shot dead for challenging a police officer, and for doing so with obvious anger and indignation.  Not only did I not worry about challenging him, I called him on his lie and drove away clean, a privilege an African-American, Latino, or immigrant does not enjoy on any day of the week. A brief look at the Police Beat column in anyone's local media will confirm who gets arrested and who doesn't.

This is radically contrary to the lived experience of tens of millions of my fellow citizens. Simple decency demands that I recognize that fact, think about it, discuss it, and commit myself to working against it, not as an academic exercise, but in the context of the lived experience of those fellow citizens who don't share my privilege.

This critical process does not require me to beat my breast and call myself a racist. It does not demand that I back off from vigorously criticizing the Democratic Party for its decisive role in enforcing corporate rule or its promotion of the cancerous surveillance state. But it does require me to keep these issues in proportion, and as one of the privileged, I believe it my duty to give at least as much attention to the long-standing war against people of color as to any other issue I discuss. What happened to me today, as angry as it made me, was NOTHING next to what millions of people of color live with every day.

In a nation where unarmed black teenagers like Trayvon Martin, and now Jordan Davis, are shot to death by white maniacs and a confused, injured black woman, Renisha McBride, is killed for knocking on a white man's door, how can we do any other?

Where hundreds of thousands people of color are fodder for a GULAG of for-profit prisons and are effectively denied an equal right to vote by the highest court in the land, how can we do any other?

Until the day when an angry black motorist can call a lying cop a liar and walk away clean, how can we do any other?

Originally posted to MrJayTee on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 10:36 AM PST.

Also republished by White Privilege Working Group, Progressive Policy Zone, and Team DFH.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  This is exactly right. I've done my share (16+ / 0-)

    of screaming at Chicago police, for good reasons or not. I won't say I knew I could do it with impunity--they typically don't react well at all--but I never felt my life was in danger.

    I've known since I was a teen that it was different for a black person, especially a black guy. It's impossible to grow up in Chicago--black or white--and not understand this.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 10:52:51 AM PST

  •  Well done, say I. Need more like this. (12+ / 0-)

    Tip, Rec, Comment, Republished: Grand slam.

  •  my white privilege, where do I start? (26+ / 0-)

    Maybe with the fact that I knew it before I ever knew there was a name for it? By the way at the age of ten me and my brown friend were followed around the five and dime in a way that my sisters and I never were?
    By the way I was shunned by several kids in public school when I transferred in fifth grade and had no clue as to why until I was invited over to one's home and overheard her mother tell her not to invite me back as I mixed with that filthy brown scum?
    Perhaps it was at my first job where the cops regularly showed up to harass us at lunch and after work and the complexion of the group I was standing with made the difference between being felt up or not when they put us up against the car?
    Or was it when the white sheeters showed up at my bar to try to intimidate me over the color of our manager who happened to live in my house? Oh, that was some fun.
    Being nervous about being stopped by the cops almost every night on the way home because they didn't like seeing a white girl with a black guy and they weren't afraid to let us know it?
    The thing you learn very early is that you can't rub the white off or share it with your friends, no matter how much you want to, but you can be judged by the color of who you're with.
    The choice then is: run and keep your privilege as safe as can be or stand. Stand and be true to who you are, be judged white trash and every nasty name the shitheads can think of, stand and say, "fuck this noise."

    I shave my legs with Occam's razor~

    by triv33 on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:23:23 AM PST

  •  Thank You MrJayTee (10+ / 0-)

    This is how discourse on white privilege should be conducted!  I hope it leads to some good discussion among all you white people without too much rancor and meta.

    Until I read this diary, I really couldn't relate to why white people spent so much time contemplating their whiteness on this blog.  Being neither black nor white nor privileged, it's a subject that only interests me marginally and especially here, at Daily Kos, the subject is absolutely FRAUGHT with meta, and not without good reason.

    There truly was a time when critics of this administration were unjustly tarnished as being racist simply by dint of criticizing the President.  Some folks here accused other folks of being "nightriders" and "pater rollers," and all manner of untrue and over-the top accusations.  It's true, it happened, and people got banned for it.

    Now, it would appear that some (not all) have substituted the issue of white privilege for the more blatant call-outs of racism, and that's why these discussion rankle so much here on the Great Orange Satan.  White privilege has also been pulled out of the box of tricks and used as a political cudgel to try to stem certain types of discussion or criticism of this administration.  

    And some people, having not long ago been unjustly accused of being racist, pater-rollers KNOW that the issue of white privilege is being AIMED at them for reasons all to well known but rarely ever articulated here, leading to a lot of bickering.

    But for some reason, your anecdotal little diary hit just the right nerve.  

    I tip, rec and commend your effort.

    •  ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, moviemeister76, MrJayTee, kat68

      your characterizations of what happened when people used to TROLL Black Kos are ridiculous.  that those same TROLLS holler whenever anyone even mentions the term "white privilege" is, at this point, axiomatic, and doesn't prove what you think it does.

      This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

      by mallyroyal on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 12:43:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Always (0+ / 0-)

        the fall back position.

        Trolling BKos prove it or it didn't happen. Name the trolls show the proof. You do that and we'll discuss the statements made under cover where others are not allowed to participate.

        Victim of the system~Bob Marley

        by LaEscapee on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 04:29:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The search function is your friend (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It's in there; all you have to is look for it...somehow I think that won't happen though

          Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

          by awesumtenor on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 08:42:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  "There truly was a time when critics of (0+ / 0-)

      this administration were unjustly tarnished as being racist simply by dint of criticizing the President."

      Funny, I rarely see people who go after the President from the Left being called "racist."  Could that be because they go after his policies and not attack his religion or citizenship?  It might also have something to do with the fact that most left-wing criticism of Obama is fact-based, as opposed to right-wing criticism.  I'm reminded of the 2012 election coverage.  Chris Matthews was in the crowd of some rally and he was talking to a woman standing there. She said she was against Obama because he was a socialist.  When Chris Matthews asked her which of Obama's policies were socialist, she couldn't name a single one.  She retreated to saying loudly "he's a socialist! he's a socialist!"  That kind of fact-free hatred against a black person always begs the question, at least in this country, is the person looking at the other person's actions or are they focusing on other attributes, namely, the other person's race?

  •  When my brother was little, he was stopped (10+ / 0-)

    on the street for "threatening" passersby with a cap gun. The cops sternly took him home to mom.

    Who knows how that would've gone for a black kid? It might've had a similar ending...

    but maybe not.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:44:58 AM PST

  •  Republished to Progressive Policy Zone. (8+ / 0-)

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 11:50:49 AM PST

  •  And on the not so completely opposite side... (8+ / 0-)

    of the spectrum. About two years ago I was picked up near my house for smoking some weed. It was late at night, no one was around, absolutely illegal, say what you will but I wasn't shooting heroin in front of kids or anything.

    Didn't even argue with these rather young undercover cats. You got me. Not good enough. These D-bags precede to give me the riot act, I mean they acted like I was public enemy #1. Said they saw me cop from a dude down the block, never happened, I already had the smoke on me. Getting a bit rough with me, frisking me, lecturing me, acting like a bunch of boy scouts on steroids, sanctimonious pricks. The chick was one of the worst ones, you got to fit in, this is your opportunity to manhandle a dude who can't resist because of some abusive ex, I get it. They were getting each other so worked up, I thought they were going to start high 5'ing each other, it was like they scored a touchdown. It would have been stupid funny if it wasn't weird and happening to me. I still laugh about it, these cats were corny, I mean if you could have been there....just, wow.

    I'm pretty proud of how I handled the whole thing honestly, and this wasn't exactly something I had been through before, first arrest, acted as cool about it as possible. My previous experiences with cops honestly not one complaint other than one other time, again a young blood being overzealous, and that turned into nothing more than some self righteous attitude, dude had nothing on me, and I was free to go.

    But that's not it. I give them what for. You didn't see me cop and you know it, you're a liar and what's that make you, you got me on probably the pettiest charge possible and your a complete liar.

    "Oh, he can go to central booking."
    "Absolutely, you can go to central booking."
    Bunch of other intimidating bs. I know they aren't taking me to Central Booking, this is their last round up before change of shift, they aren't taking me to anywhere other than the 105th all of 5 minutes away, not for some weed.

    Handcuff me, throw me in the back of the van, your hands are behind your back in a purposefully uncomfortable position smashed in with way too many people-not one white kid in a rather mixed neighborhood. Everyone's either black, west indian, latino....they're giving you shit the entire ride, still cheerleading each other, interviewing you, filling out paperwork in the van picking up more cats.

    Now I and anyone who knows my neighborhood, Queens Village, if these cats went on just the opposite side of Braddock Ave. I personally know any number of white boys, some of whom are my friends, getting shit faced right in the street, doing blow at a several bars right on Braddock that everyone knows is happening AND they're actually closer to the 105th precinct.

    Not one white boy in that van. Not one.

    I was arrested, fingerprinted, kept in a cell for several hours - didn't matter that I had ID, they had to run my prints with "Central" for warrants. For real. All of this to get a bench warrant which was a further waste of time as I had to miss a day of work and all the judge does is look at me, says you've got no priors, stay out of trouble for a year, go home. Didn't even pay a fine.

    All of that for what? Totally treated me like PE#1 for what? Arrest me, fingerprint me, keep me in a cell for what amounts to a bench warrant and not even a fine.

    After it was all said and done after the court date I went home and just laughed and got stoned. What I was most upset about wasn't getting arrested, they got me, due process, fine, but the sanctimony, the fact that I knew that they knew that white cats were doing lines 5 blocks from the precinct......and  the complete futility and waste of time, money, man hours....for a bench warrant and no fine.

    LOLZ. And I'm supposed to respect this system and it's authority exactly why?

    You know the best part? Up till then I never had a problem with the police, for real, my brother is a ranking officer in the Army, all my great uncles and both grandfathers served in Korea,  nothing but respect for uniformed men and women. For years me and my mom used to donate to the PBA.

    Used to.

    There will be another Trayvon or Renisha within the week if even that long.....

    "The 5 O"clock whistles on the clink, the whistle won't blow and whatcha think, my papas still in the factory, cause he don't know what time it happens to be."

    by Meurglys on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 12:07:43 PM PST

    •  Oh and just for the record.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One cop was black, one was Latino, only the chick was white.

      The color of their skin isn't the point. I was never trying to paint some over the top picture of boohoo poor little Hispanic me being abused by imperialist white boys. I also admit that they had me dead to rights, they got public enemy#1 all right. Me, the Spanish dude smoking some weed with absolutely no one around. Not the white dudes doing blow at the bar, where quite frankly I know for a fact cops have hung out in the past. 105th handles as far down as South Jamaica, or at least used to, and for a long time had a very bad reputation for being corrupt up the ass.

      They need not be KKK white cops for this to be an example of white privilege. If I had been on the opposite side of Braddock where the houses are nicer and the skin is lighter, they never would have even drove up.

      I could go on. I can't tell you how many times I've been at keggers and house parties in decidedly white neighborhoods in various areas of Queens NY (Fresh Meadows-Bayside-Whitestone-Astoria-the lighter side of Queens Village-parts of Flushing-Franny Lou-Kew Gardens, etc.)  that were completely out of control. Cops roll up, tell you to lower the music, they leave, music goes back uo to 11, packs of coke come back out, end of story. If I was in the hood just having a forty on a stoop bothering no one not being anywhere near as loud with much less dangerous drugs going around, what you think?

      We don't live in the same city son.

      "The 5 O"clock whistles on the clink, the whistle won't blow and whatcha think, my papas still in the factory, cause he don't know what time it happens to be."

      by Meurglys on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 02:55:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would never, in a MILLION YEARS, have said (10+ / 0-)

    what you did, in the tone you did.  even through the rage-shaking.

    which, of course, goes to your point.  I'm an African American male.

    good diary.

    This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

    by mallyroyal on Fri Feb 07, 2014 at 12:44:45 PM PST

    •  Because we know from small (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MrJayTee, poco

      As black men that any hostility...real or an invitation for a call for backup, a royal beat down and then being arrested for "resisting arrest"...

      Fear doesn't just breed incomprehension. It also breeds a spiteful, resentful hate of anyone and everyone who is in any way different from you.

      by awesumtenor on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 08:38:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm not sure how far I would have argued. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is always the appeals process.  Of course, none of us knows for sure how THAT particular officer would have treated a person of color unless he has a well-known reputation in the community in that regard that you didn't mention.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site