Yesterday, in the aftermath of the Ferguson decision I posted about white privilege in the general sense. Today, I’d like to tell you a story about a case of white privilege in particular — an incident that happened to me.
To be honest, when it was happening I didn’t think much about it. I certainly didn’t think of it in terms of white privilege. It wasn’t until afterwards, as I was recounting the story to several people that I noticed a distinct difference between the reactions of my black friends and that of my white friends — I was telling the story in front of people of both races.
Here’s what happened. It’s been a couple of years, but I will try to tell the tale as best as I can remember it.
It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, probably 2012, possibly 2011. I was walking home from work when I realized that I had an apron full of paper — customer receipts, beverage napkins, pieces of my order pad. The detritus of my trade.
It was a beautiful night, the official beginning of summer, and I was in a playful mood. As I approached the gas station that is just around the corner from my house, I decided to ball up the garbage and make baskets into one of their garbage cans. I would estimate that I hit about 80% from the makeshift and virtual free-throw line that I had concocted in my mind. I was chuckling to myself as I did it and thinking, no doubt, about how silly I, a forty-some-odd-year-old woman, must look playing trash can basketball.
As I went to retrieve the “balls” that had missed their intended target, I noticed a police cruiser, but thought little of it. I remember hoping that whoever was in it hadn’t seen me acting like a teenager in study hall. I couldn’t see whether anyone was in it or not, as I went about the business of picking up my litter and the few odds and ends that other people had left strewn around the trash receptacle, but I didn’t really care. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Not only am I no litterbug, I’m also a good citizen.
I went into the store to make a purchase, of what I cannot recall, ice cream, perhaps? As I went to exit the store a Sheriff’s officer walked in. He looked me up and down in a way that felt uncomfortable. He looked at me like I was in trouble. I found it off-putting to say the least.
Within seconds he asked me where I had been that night. Because I did not like his tone, I pointed at my apron, which is emblazoned with the logo of the restaurant I work for — a restaurant that stands about 150 yards from the gas station. At first I thought that he was going to reprimand me for littering. I was thinking to myself, “Didn’t he see me pick up my garbage?”
Then he asked me how much I had had to drink that night. I looked at him straight in the eye and told him “Nothing.” I could tell that he didn’t believe me. I then went on to say that I had not, in fact, had a drink in several years. His eyebrow shot up and he made an “Um-hmmm” kind of a sound. This confirmed my original suspicion that he did not believe me. Really, though, I didn’t much care. I didn’t much care for him either, to tell the truth.
After this ridiculous exchange he asked me for identification. I told him that I didn’t have any identification on me, as I had been at work for twelve hours and hadn’t brought my purse, which was the God’s honest truth.
At this he became angry. He told me that I was “required” to carry identification with me at all times. “Actually”, I informed him, “I’m not.” I then went on to explain to him that the court had recently ruled that the law in Arizona — designed to ferret out illegal immigrants — which required that folks carry certain forms of identification with them, had, in fact, been declared unconstitutional. I may have asked him if he was familiar with this decision. I am fairly certain I offered to pull it up on my phone for him.
Yeah. I was being snarky. I was getting annoyed. “What”, I thought, “does this idiot want with me, anyway? What is his problem.” I began to make my way to the exit. He held his arm out and told me to “stay put” and, I swear that he said that he was “calling for back-up”.
“Back-up?”, I asked the store clerk, “Did he just say he was calling for ‘back-up’?” The clerk shook his head in the affirmative. I burst out laughing and made for the door. There were, I realized, two young black guys in the store with me. I hadn’t noticed them before.
As I began to leave one of them looked at me and said, “You are some crazy white lady. That cop told you to stay put.”
I just looked at him and laughed. I told him that there was no way I was going to hang around and engage in any tomfoolery with THAT idiot. I had done nothing wrong. The kid just shook his head, as if to say, “You are one crazy white lady.”
As I made my way home and, mind you, I walked at a leisurely pace, I remember thinking “What an idiot!”, certainly not “Wow! I’m so lucky to be a crazy white lady who has the audacity to just walk away from an officer of the law.” I was never afraid, not for one second. It never occurred to me to be afraid — even when, as I was opening my front door, I heard a car peel into the parking lot behind my house. When I got upstairs and looked out the window I realized that it was HIM, the Sheriff’s officer. He was pointing a searchlight from his cruiser all around the parking lot. No doubt he was looking for me.
Still laughing, I dialed the local Chief of Police. He’s a friend. Our daughters swam together on two different teams. I explained to him what had happened and told him that the loony guy appeared to still be looking for me. He told me not to worry about it. I didn’t. I just went off to bed.
The next day I thought it would make an amusing anecdote for my co-workers. It did. Most of them thought it was pretty hilarious. I’ll bet you can guess which audience members thought this. If you guessed the white people, you’d be right. The black ones? They just looked at me and said, “Yeah. You are some crazy white lady. You know what else you are? Lucky.”