Brandon and I at prom 2005.
Which, by the way, was still segregated. For more on that story, visit http://www.southernritesproject.com/
"Recognizing your privilege does not mean you did not work hard for what you have... It means your skin color was not something that was constantly working AGAINST you as you fought your way up."
I grew up in a small town in rural south Georgia. I would like to share an example of my white privilege.
My high school/college sweetheart was black. He drove a Chevy Caprice, and if you don't know what that means, you aren't from South GA. Cops didn't like Caprices. Black men did. You were targeted if you drove one. Do not argue with me about this because it is true and that is not the point I'm making here (although this story is evidence of it).
One night, I was probably about 20 years old, we were driving back from spending the day in Atlanta with his family. It was late and we were on a 2 lane hwy in the middle of nowhere aka Soperton, which was about 15 minutes from home (Vidalia). Police there are notorious for racial profiling so boyfriend was making sure not to drive over the speed limit. We saw a cop car parked on the side of the road with his lights off. Before we knew it, blue light were flashing behind us.
Police officer immediately asks boyfriend to step out of the vehicle (which he does) and he is escorted to the back of the car. After asking a couple of questions, officer requests to search the vehicle. Boyfriend gives permission.
(Insert my white privilege)
Officer asks me to step out of the vehicle too. It's cold. We did nothing wrong. I tell him, politely, that he has no reason to search the vehicle because we did nothing wrong. I asked why he pulled us over to begin with and he replies "You have a crack in your windshield that is a safety concern. And your license plate is so dirty I couldn't read it, therefore I have reason." (Black men do not let their Caprice's get that dirty just FYI.) He had great night vision to see a cracked windshield at midnight on a moving vehicle.
I hear boyfriend say, "Julie just do it."
I step out. I'm PISSED at this point. I'm not going to be polite anymore. This is WRONG. I stand up for what's wrong! And I'm tired of the guy I love going through this, because it is certainly not the first time. Officer asks to search my purse after finding nothing in the trunk or rest of the car. Absolutely not! You have NO right to. You have no reason to believe I've done anything wrong. You are out of line!
"Ma'am, you are being suspicious by refusing to let me search your purse. You look like you are guilty of something." Are you kidding me?? There is nothing suspicious about knowing my rights and refusing to let you violate them.
Boyfriend is silent. I am low key frustrated with him for letting this officer violate his rights. Stop letting police treat you like this- you have done nothing to deserve this. You are a good guy, you broke no laws, and they have no right to treat you like a criminal. Don't just give them what they want.
The officer didn't search my purse that night.
Fast forward 10 years and I remembered this night. It took me over a decade to recognize my white privilege had been screaming at every moment. I thought since I was there, getting treated the way I was for being WITH a black man, that I was experiencing the same thing he was. I thought we were the same that night. That isn't true.
Here's the difference: I had been taught I had the right to stand up for what was right, even to authority.
Boyfriend had been taught this: Do whatever you have to do to come home safe.
I thought we both could have stood up to that officer. Boyfriend knew he didn't have that option, that privilege. His only goal was not to go to jail. Don't get yourself shot. I thought we could/should be able to drive without being harassed. Boyfriend knew better. His instinct was to comply to stay alive. When I think back on that night now, I'm not frustrated with boyfriend. I'm frustrated with myself because I potentially could have made that night a lot worse for him, with the bad, self-righteous attitude I thought I was allowed to have.
It was hard for me to recognize my privilege on that night- it has literally taken years. It is hard to see something that you may have never realized was there. Recognizing your privilege does not mean you did not work hard for what you have, because I know I have. It does not mean anything was handed to you. It does not mean your family was wealthy and things always came easy. It means your skin color was not something that was constantly working AGAINST you as you fought your way up. Your race was not a barrier to your success. In fact, it probably never crossed your mind. That is a luxury black people do not have. We have work to do, my white friends.
Oh and my boyfriend did go to jail that night. For the license plate.