They Never Stop & Frisk Old White Guys

white-privilege-350

In 2006, James Blake was the world’s 4th ranked tennis professional. He won nearly $8,000,000 in career prize money. He spent two years at Harvard. He is handsome and well-dressed. Whilst standing outside the 42nd St. Hyatt in New York City on September 9th, Blake was tackled by a man in a T-shirt and slacks, and slammed to the ground. The man, who never identified himself as a police officer, was joined by 4 other police officers. They handcuffed Blake. He was yanked to his feet and thrown face-first into a mirrored support post. James Blake suffered cuts and bruises in the assault. Police held him for fifteen minutes in a case of mistaken identity which involved a case of credit card fraud. James Blake is a black man.

I am a middle-aged white guy. I don’t worry about such things. White privilege is real. I am a beneficiary. (Please read the Blake story here.)

When I go to the mall with a few of my middle-aged friends, I am not followed by rent-a-cops anxious to follow in Paul Blart’s clown shoes.

When I stand in line at the Kroger deli counter, the folks behind the counter are not just happy to help, they offer samples of foods with a cheery “Here, just try a bite!”

When I stand next to a young black man at an unmanned Taco Bell register, when a cashier arrives at the counter, the cashier automatically looks first to me.

When I go to Goodwill, people assume I’m there to drop off a donation, and not there to complete my fall wardrobe.

Outside of a busy restaurant, no one has ever barked at me, “Hey, bring my car around.”

If I put on a suit and stand outside a Brooks Bros. and beg for money, people give me money, instead of making a call to the cops.

When I walk briskly through a hospital in business clothing, people assume I am someone of importance. Security doesn’t even look up as I walk past their station.

At appliance stores, even in cargo shorts and a bleach stained polo shirt, salespeople follow me around, not because they’re afraid I’ll steal something, but because I smell like a commission.

I walk  into a car dealership on a hot, muggy day and employees offer me a bottle of chilled water and their business card.

I’m not a big shot. I don’t have an entourage. I don’t wear Armani suits. I drive a ten year old Jeep Cherokee. My favorite shoes are chewed-up Keens. My only jewelry is a slightly detailed but otherwise plain gold wedding band and a mid-priced watch. My brief case is a fifteen year old leather and canvas Kenneth Cole which I purchased at TJ Maxx. But I am middle-aged, a man insulated by his white skin and grey hair.

Twenty years ago, this happened.

Driving home from the office, in suit and tie, I found myself behind an old Buick sedan. The Buick had a shelving unit and several 2 x 4s sticking well out from the trunk. Neither the shelving unit nor the 2 x 4s were  marked with the requisite red flag, but from my perch in my GMC minivan, I had no trouble seeing them. It had just started to rain and the road was slippery. Even at the twenty-five miles per hour in a forty-five mph zone the Buick was traveling, I felt I was a safe distance behind.

As we approached an intersection with a green light, the Buick needlessly slammed on its brakes. I hit my brakes, and slid to a halt; the shelving unit resting against my grill. I got out of my car and inspected the front end. No harm.

I took a look at the back end of the Buick. No damage. In the front seat of the Buick, an elderly black woman in the passenger seat was berating her equally elderly husband behind the wheel. I could see the waving of hands. I approached his car and tapped on the driver’s side window. He rolled the window down a bit, and I suggested we pull off the street and into a nearby bank parking lot.

Once safely in the parking lot, I went back to his car, and asked if he’d like to exchange information.

“Why’d you hit your brakes so hard?” I asked.

“Thought I saw someone, out the corner of my eye, running the red light,” he answered.

“Fair enough,” I said.

Despite the lack of damage to either vehicle, his wife insisted we call the police. With my then-cutting edge Motorola cell phone in a bag, I called 911 and we waited.

The officer arrived and walked straight to my car.

“What happened?” he asked.

As I handed him my license and registration, I explained.

“Okay, sit tight. Be right back.”

He ran my numbers. Within minutes, he handed my papers back to me as he approached the Buick. The elderly black man sat motionless behind the wheel, his hands in plain sight at ten and two. The man handed over his paperwork. I watched as the officer and the man talked for a few minutes. It was an accident, with no damage. No harm, no foul, I thought.

In my mind, as the driver of the following vehicle, this was half my fault. Had I been a greater distance behind, I’d never have slid into him in the mist. The officer turned and walked towards my car.

“You’re free to go, sir,” he said.

“Me? Okay.”

I was shocked that I was not to be ticketed.

“What about that fellow up there?” I asked. “He’s okay, right?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s fine. A little scared. Old people always get like that. He should have a red flag on those 2 by 4s, but I just warned him about that. I do need to ticket him for careless driving. That could have been bad. He’ll get a warning from the judge, maybe a little fine. No big deal. That’s all, sir.

“Thanks for your cooperation, sir. You’re free to go.”

I recognized the tone. I was dismissed.

“Thank-you, officer,” I said.

As I pulled away, the realization came home to me. I was a thirty five year old white businessman, in a suit, behind the wheel of a GMC minivan. It was a powerful reminder of the power of packaging.

Today, if I were to be pulled over for a routine traffic stop, or for no reason whatsoever, I wouldn’t worry about getting yanked out of my car and searched because of the color of my skin.

Today, I do not feel the need to coach my son about how to behave should he get pulled over by the police. No special rules for him, other than “keep your hands in plain sight and say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir.’”

As a middle-aged white guy, when I’m dressed in grungy yardwork clothes, people know the yard at which I’m at work in, is mine. When I go to hardware store in those same clothes, no one is surprised that I speak English as an educated man ought.

When I start a new career, it is assumed I am there because I am capable.

I do not make apologies for my color. But I understand that my skin gives me advantages.

I acknowledge that being a law officer is a highly combustible position. Kudos to those men and women who assume that risk for our sake.

Can you acknowledge that being a person of color in the United States is difficult? Can you acknowledge that it is an advantage to be white?

You can? Good.

You can’t? Let me know when a half-dozen cops level Andy Roddick as he’s standing outside his hotel.

 

 

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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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