Wednesday, July 24, 2013

White Privilege 1: Clunker and Coke

To further the discussion surrounding race, I asked readers to submit stories about white privilege. It is my hope that these stories might offer a glimpse into systemic and cultural racism. Whether we consider ourselves to be racist or not (please read the previous two posts -- here and here -- for some perspectives on that debate), those of us who are white frequently benefit from systemic and cultural racism.

This is, of course, really just the beginning of a lifetime of discussions.

I invite readers of color who have experienced racial profiling to submit their own stories as well.

This first story came to me anonymously:

It was 2:25 in the morning, a police cruiser hit his lights as my late model Dodge Shadow with peeling paint and a cheap luggage rack secured with rope and bungee cords slowly rolled through a 4-way intersection in a maneuver that we locals refer to as a "California Stop". My pulse raced, I started to sweat, and I got that same churning in the pit of my stomach usually reserved for the 3 times in my life that I've smelled rotting meat. It wasn't the thought of the $225 fine that made me nauseous nor the points on my driver's license; it was the $300 worth of blow and 10 hits of Ecstasy under a gym bag in my back seat that had me panicked. I looked at my colleague in crime, a mild mannered Accounts Supervisor for a regional bank, and knew we were both incapable of - as they say in the movies - "playing it cool". We were going down for this one...hard.

The officer warily approached my car which was as out of place in this upscale Orange County neighborhood as Sarah Palin at a Mensa meeting. "Breathe" I said. "I am breathing" my companion replied through clenched teeth. "I was talking to myself" I whispered. Good God this was going to be the clearest cut case of possession with intent to sell as ever went before a court; no one would believe that the two of us were holding nearly $500 of illegal drugs for our own use.

Flashlight in the eyes, just like the movies.

I rolled down my window which needed a little help from my right palm. I said nothing. My colleague said even less. "Sir" he spoke in a voice that was way too polite for the circumstances, "I'll need to see your license". I fumbled for my wallet, and produced a driver's license that showed an address several miles from this Orange County intersection. He studied it and I could literally feel my Colon pucker. "What brings you to this area at this time of night gentlemen?". In my head I ran through the possible answers:

A. I'm a gardener getting such an early jump on my work, I forgot my lawn mower.
B. I'm a benevolent CEO who swapped cars with my housekeeper for a week.
C. I'm delivering a bunch of drugs that I purchased from my dealer to some friends who live in the area. We're going to get impossibly wrecked and watch a Tim Burton movie on Blu Ray.

Surprisingly, I came up with a fourth. "My girlfriend kicked me out, and my buddy here who lives in the area was kind enough to take me in for a few nights."

The cop nodded the nod of a man who had been kicked out by more than a few girlfriends. "I hear ya. Good thing you've got a pal". My colleague nodded like a bobble head. "Alright guys", he said almost apologetically, "sorry to have stopped you. It's just that your car doesn't really look like it's from around here." I laughed dutifully, and couldn't resist one more dig at my fictional bitch girlfriend. "She kicked me out, but kept our Jeep". Now the cop laughed; it was like a party on the side of the road. "Women" he offered derisively. With this new atmosphere of over 30 white male bonding becoming so damn friendly, my colleague piped up from the driver's seat, "I tried to warn him!", he breezily tossed in. I was seriously considering asking the cop to meet us for a drink later.

"Just get home safe; and watch those 4-way stops". And with that he was gone, as was the possibility of prison. My friend and I sat there for a moment as his cruiser pulled out onto the road and disappeared into the cool Orange County morning. We should have laughed but we didn't. On paper, it looked bad: Dumpy car, license from a residence 37 miles away, 2:25 in the morning, flimsy story, and technically I didn't come to a complete stop. Why did it turn out so well? I guess we'll never really know. I have my suspicions, and none of them include anything over which I had control. I'm interested to see where my story lands on the injustice scale; embarrassingly, it's probably pretty high.

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