Sunday, May 31, 2020

My White Privilege

In humble honor of those who died because they lack such privilege with police 

I hesitate to admit this, but I’ve never gotten a ticket for speeding or any other moving violation. In my 45 years of driving, I’ve been pulled over only a handful of times and have always just been admonished with something along the lines “be more careful in the future.”

In contrast, I know African Americans in their twenties who have been pulled over many more times already. I don’t think the issue is that I’m a better driver, but that I don’t look the part of a lawbreaker in the eyes of most police officers.
NYPD car from about when I ran a red light in 1985.
One story I often tell took place when I was in my twenties in NYC. I was driving my car east on 116th Street toward Broadway and Columbia University. I noticed a police car in my rear-view mirror. I was watching it and went through a red light. The police car’s lights and sirens turned on. I pulled over, coincidentally, in front of my church, Broadway Presbyterian. The officers asked me to get out of my car, put my hands on the hood, and spread my legs. They patted me down and once they were satisfied, asked me what happened. I explained and apologized profusely. One of them said that I should be more careful in the future.

During the whole episode, my biggest fears were of someone I knew seeing me in front of my church and having to explain to Susie that we would have to pay for a ticket. Neither happened and I went merrily on my way with a story to tell to poke fun at my foolishness. I never worried that the officers might hurt me or that I would get more than a ticket.

Me, from 1985, enjoying my privileges.
I did not know about the concept of white privilege when I was pulled over by the NYPD in 1985, but I enjoyed it then and still do now. I never asked for white privilege, but I can’t deny I have it. The question is what will I do with it and about it?

The one thing I must not do is be silent. I need to be vocal in my disapproval about anything that even hints of racism, especially in person where I can explain my viewpoint. I’d rather be seen as some sort of white-bashing, anti-racist than let casual statements go unchallenged. (However, I’m not likely to do so on social media, where social discourse is the exception rather than the rule.)

I also need to make greater efforts to listen to African-American voices, not just those of public figures, but people I encounter. Further, I need to make greater efforts to encounter more African Americans.

I watched a TED talk six years ago by Mellody Hobson about being what she calls color brave rather than color blind. It deeply affected me. I re-watched it this morning and listened to Chris Anderson’s 2018 interview with her. I have a long way to go, but in my life and work, I need to re-double my efforts to be color brave.

What will you do?

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