I love driving around at night. At least, I did for awhile.
For basically the last five years of my life, I’ve taken advantage of my poor sleep schedule and poor decisions with my personal health to go get late night food. It’s unhealthy, clearly a poor decision, but I’d grown accustomed to it in college, and it’s been impossible to break the habit. I’ve made a concerted effort to fix it with the turn of the new year, but it’s been difficult.
Anyway, anyone who eats unhealthy knows that the best time to drive around and go get food like that is late at night. For me, it was almost as much about hiding from myself and others as it was hunger, but I did it. A lot. I love driving around at night because it’s relatively peaceful. The roads are clear, there’s less hustle and bustle, and you get lost in your own thoughts all the time.
It also helps that I don’t fear for my life if pulled over by the police.
One night, after coming home from an event about 18 months ago, I stopped for some fast food and drove to a park. It was about 11pm, way past time that the park closed, but I had Del Taco and I was going to eat it while listening to an audiobook from my phone, the exact one I can’t remember.
About three minutes after pulling into a parking spot, a police officer rolls up with the siren on. I wasn’t nervous. Technically, I was doing something wrong by being in the park, but I wasn’t smoking or drinking or anything, so I turned on the lights in my car, rolled down the window, put my hands on top of the wheel, and waited. The officer approached me cautiously, asked what I was doing, heard out my answer, and then...
He shook my hand, offered me his business card, told me to clear out of the park, and let me go without a fuss.
I tell this story to relay a couple of things:
- White privilege is a thing, and it takes form in ways one may or may not be able to see
- I did not fear for my life while alone in a public park with police after doing something wrong
Those two things are connected.
What happened yesterday at the United States Capitol was pretty scary. I was late to the news but watched things unfold beginning around the time that the angry mob broke into the Capitol building. Broken windows, doors, stolen property, and a message more valuable than any of them; the election decision made is not to be accepted on the premise that the election was illegitimate, despite ample evidence to the contrary. A woman was shot and killed (accompanied by graphic and disturbing video of the incident) and that is incredibly sad.
I don’t want to discuss my political views in the piece. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or knows me outside of the internet can probably figure out where I stand on such issues, so instead, I would rather stick to what everyone can agree upon. The facts.
One of those facts is: there are certain parallels between protests yesterday and protests over George Floyd’s murder more than six months ago. No, they are not the same, and they are not being protested for remotely close to the same reasons. In each of the cases, however, one group of people was aggrieved by the events caused by another group of people, and that really pissed off the first group. Mobilization and protest ensued, and major political events began to unfold.
Where those parallels end is how those protests were received by law makers and law enforcement. During protests over George Floyd’s murder, generally peaceful protests, there was heavy use of mace, rubber bullets, and other aggressive de-escalation efforts across the country. It wasn’t just in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but around the United States in almost every major city. There were an inordinate number of deaths, injuries, and arrests during this time.
Fast forward to yesterday’s events, and a different side of law makers and law enforcement was seen in the face of a similar, perhaps more violent situation. Rather than set up a strong perimeter around the working grounds of the Capitol, one of the most important places in the United States, law enforcement was unprepared to handle such a situation and allowed several breaches that put the safety of many in concern. The angry protestors made their way inside the Capitol building, onto the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and even into the office of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House.
It certainly appeared that these two events, similar in nature when removing political intentions and basic humanity, were treated entirely differently by many of those in power. According to Reuters, 68 people were arrested in total following yesterday’s debacle, most charged with unlawful entry in to the Capitol building. Compare that number to more than 300 people arrested in Washington DC on June 1st alone connected to protests over George Floyd’s murder. That seems wrong. That seems like there were a different set of expectations for the two major events.
That’s where white privilege comes back into the fray.
In general, white people don’t like hearing about white privilege. I will admit, I’m not such a big fan of being reminded about it myself because it makes me uncomfortable with my own situation. Everyone goes through the trials and tribulations of life. Those trials take different forms, and it’s tough for white people to say that we, and I do emphasize the ‘we’ here to not rise above these thoughts, have it inherently worse. I’m still living at home and have since college 18 months ago. I’d love to move out, but I can’t right now. There are definitely privileges in having that option, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way all the time.
That being said, I hope the story I shared for the introduction highlights that white privilege in a clear way. It does exist. 100 percent. It helped me in a situation that may have hurt a person of color. It gave me the confidence to remain calm in the face of a police officer. Often, a person of color doesn’t have that luxury, and even if a person of color were to comply with every instruction the police officer gave me, that person might still have been arrested. I was breaking the rules and was able to skirt by free of charge. Nobody can say with 100 percent certainty that a person of color would have been given the same luxury.
Is being white better? Of course not. That’s the whole point. For decades, centuries, millenniums even, the color of one’s skin has defined personal treatment, relationships, job opportunities, and almost everything to do with life itself. For a lot of white people like me, that breeds a certain guilt, and sometimes a certain resentment for hearing the words ‘white privilege’ due to factors that can’t be controlled.
I’ve heard from many that white privilege is a myth. Many white people that is. I’ve never heard it from a person of color for obvious reasons. It’s difficult for white people to quantify because we see it every day and don’t realize what’s happening before our eyes.
The reactions and arrests at two separate protests, one incited by the death of a black man and one incited by the beliefs of a white man, highlight this as plainly as possible. It’s not okay. It’s not right. It’s not humane. And yet, it still shows up in our lives every single day. For some, it’s a benefit and quite literally a get-out-of-jail-free card in the face of breaking the law. For others, showing similar passions and desires can be fatal.
Many are angry at the moment. Rightfully so. The events yesterday left many in shock, disgust, and outrage for a variety of reasons.
This isn’t an article about those reasons though. This is about acknowledgment. I hope many, after reading this, take the opportunity to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are being an ally for change or not. For a better country. Just because the George Floyd protests are over doesn’t mean that white people fighting for the rights of black people is over either. Yesterday was a reminder of a gap that still exists in the United States today.
Have empathy, listen, and understand what’s going on. Be an ally for change. Show a willingness to do the right thing, even if it’s not the right thing for one’s own situation.
Then maybe, slowly, we can come together on something meaningful.