Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cops, Privilege and Utterances

I was driving home from the completely awesome Alchemy performance Saturday night (more on that later). I brought a few of the performers home, which was fun, I haven't hung out with a bunch of women on my a long time.

We were almost to my last passenger's house when I was pulled over by a cop. Now it's past two in the morning, we're just a little ways into Oakland from the Oakland/Berkeley border (which undoubtedly had something to do with it). There were two other cars traveling right along with me and when the cop flipped a bitch and came back up fast we all immediately pulled over assuming he got a call. When he stayed behind our line the two cars in front of me waited a minute and then slowly moved off. I think they were as confused as my passenger and I why any of us would be pulled over.

Long story short, when the cop came up and looked into the car at these two pretty early/mid twenties females who were obviously clear eyed and seat belts on, he got an obvious "oh, oops" look on his face. I guess he was just randomly checking to see if we were up to something? But I was shaking. I always am around cops. They make me incredibly nervous and my passenger seemed to feel similarly. Well, I didn't have my registration in my car (oops, I found it when I got home) and hadn't printed out a new proof of insurance (fuck) so then I started getting really nervous. "You were going a little fast there."


Well, all that happened is when he came back he said "you really need to get that stuff back into your car, I can cite you for that" and told me "good luck with [my moving]" (why my stuff wasn't with me). Thank you Goddess.

Now, we'd spent a lot of the night talking about various differences between experiences of our backgrounds, and as I was pulling away I said "gods sometimes I'm glad I'm pretty and white" and a little later "ugh FUCK the police!" (which my passenger heartily agreed with and said she was glad someone else felt that way).

The first response is really bothering me. At that point my hands were still shaking, and for some reason my mind went to the women of color I'd been with all night (and was sitting next to, although who I was thinking of were the two black women that had been in the car earlier). How much harder would that stop have been if one of them had been driving? Just fifteen minutes earlier they had been talking about apartment and job hunting, how people didn't expect them to be black by talking over the phone, and how many times they had shown up for viewings or interviews to a surprised look and no call back. In Oakland!! No matter how many times I hear about things like that happening, it still blows my mind.

There's no way to know for sure, but I certainly felt that I was just then benefiting from white privilege. I got away from that with nothing. I didn't get yelled at, or interrogated by the side of the road, or pulled out of the car... And I was relieved. I was relieved. I mean of course I was relieved, but, part of it was a definite consciousness of what might very well have allowed me to get away.

What kind of fucking shitty ally am I? Is that shitty? I feel embarrassed I gave voice to my knowledge, but would it be better if I hadn't realized it? I don't know how to feel about this... And I'm not looking for reassurance, but I had to process it somehow...


  1. Well, it sounds like you were acknowledging the fact that some unearned privilege might be playing a role in what had occurred and I think that it's always a good thing when we do that. When I witness a situation like the one you experienced, I always wonder whether or not the person realizes how differently things might have gone if they weren't white (Of course, you could replace "white" with "non-disabled", "young", "pretty" or a whole bunch of other labels and it would still work).

    I feel a lot of guilt about my class privilege. I constantly struggle with the fact that I know my life would have turned out a lot different if I hadn't had a certain amount of economic security in the form of multiple sets of relatives who were able to bail me out of situations that have sent others careening into bankruptcy. It's a lot easier to just sit and feel guilty than to try and figure out how you replace the system that hands out these privileges that come in handy oh-so-often.

  2. It's in the nature of unearned privilege that it is impossible to relinquish, so I'm not sure what you could have done differently.

  3. You got out of a situation others might not have fared so well with, this doesn't make you a poor ally. How would not getting out of this situation have made you a better ally, other than to be able to tell others you've had tough run-ins with the police? Some cop with a bad mood, impervious to your color or gender, would not change your beliefs about the wrongfulness of prejudicial treatment in society. Nor has your feeling of relief diminished your sense of fairness and justice.

    Do the same thing any sane person, from any class, color, gender, or physical disability status would do if they'd had the kind of luck you had: be happy about it, guilt-free.


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