Many years ago, I was driving through Georgia on Interstate 75 on my way to visit my parents. My son was in the backseat playing whatever latest video game had just hit the market. This was back before my daughter had even been born so my son was about to have his grandparents all to himself for two weeks.
All of a sudden I saw flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I immediately pulled over, thinking that perhaps I had been speeding. The police officer appeared by my driver’s side window and asked for my license and registration. Not a problem as I smiled and handed them over.
Then the officer asked me to get out of the car. I smiled and did as asked – not sure what was going on but still not concerned.
Then the officer asked if I had any weapons on me and asked for permission to pat me down. I was confused as I had never been patted down for a routine traffic stop before but still I smiled and complied.
Then the officer asked if he could search the trunk of my car. At that moment, I vaguely remembered something about unlawful searches without a warrant – wishing I had paid more attention when studying constitutional law in my high school political science class. But I had nothing to hide and was still not overly concerned, so I smiled and popped the trunk.
That was when the officer got a call over the radio that the suspect had been caught.
Suspect? What suspect?
The officer then explained to me that a convenience store had been robbed a few exits back and the suspect was female, driving a black Nissan Altima and had a kid in the backseat. I had fit the description perfectly.
He apologized for the inconvenience, returned my license and registration, and then got back into his patrol car and left.
Looking back on that incident, there was never a moment in my mind that I entertained any possible conclusion other than a handshake, a thank you very much and being sent on my merry way. Some people might call it being naive or just plain stupid, but now I realize my naiveness was the result of white privilege.
There was never a moment when I thought that scenario could end badly. Never. There was never a moment growing up when my parents had to sit me down and have “the talk” with me about how to interact with officers to keep things from escalating. Never. There has never been a moment when I have been fearful for my life around a police officer. Period.
With so many people discussing racism these days, there are still so many people who continue to misunderstand the concept of white privilege. I have heard several friends and family members say things like, “I’m not privileged; I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got!”
White privilege isn’t about having never had it hard – it’s about having never had it hard because of the color of your skin!
It’s about being pulled over on the Interstate, being frisked and having your trunk searched and still whole-heartedly believing that it’s all going to end with a handshake and a smile.
Because my naiveness (white privilege) never entertained otherwise.