The valet wore a tan “Members Only” jacket, Black pants, and a large smile as he handed my husband the keys to his Jeep Cherokee, while my sons hopped into the back seat and I hurled myself into the front. We were feeling that “functional-family glow”: everyone was getting along and we had enjoyed a dinner with flowing conversation (these times had become rarer since both boys became teenagers). A Drake song was playing which provided further proof that this was indeed a special night: a musician whom everyone liked.
Heads boppin’, we pulled out of the restaurant’s parking lot to the stop sign that was fewer than 100 feet away, then pulled away. Suddenly the truck was lit with frightening blue and red strobe lights that almost seemed to match the rhythm of Drake’s song. But it wasn’t a party; it was the police…party over.
I felt my husband, who has a reputation of never becoming flustered, become tense. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, looked up at the rear-view mirror at our boys, and commanded, “Zach and Evan, I want you to watch and remember everything I do with this officer.” They, unaccustomed to their laid-back father speaking so firmly, adopted his energy, didn’t reply, and sat unmoving in the back.
The officer explained to my husband, who was playing the role of “compliant, non-threatening, Black man,” that he had come to a rolling stop at the stop sign, instead of stopping fully. He then took my husband’s license and car insurance and walked back to his car.
It was difficult to see my husband so visibly stressed; and I was sad that the glow of the night went immediately dark, so I cheerily said, “Baby, you won’t get a ticket. Don’t worry. I’ve been stopped and I haven’t gotten a ticket in at least 10 years.”
With no inflection, and a slight hint of annoyance, my husband responded, “Oh, I am getting a ticket, Randi, trust me.”
And he did.
We drove in silence for a few minutes, when my husband turned the radio down, quickly glanced at me and revealed, “you are a woman—an attractive woman at that—your experience with the police has been and will be different from mine and from the boys.” I could tell that he was frustrated with the police officer — and more so — with me. He was annoyed that I was blind to his experience—that for a moment I couldn’t see or understand his pain, fear and stress.
I was viewing his experience from my place of privilege. My experience as a female driver has been easier than my husband’s experience as a male driver. This assertion does not mean that I haven’t taken driving seriously; that I’m not a good driver; that I don’t get stressed when I see or am stopped by a police officer. It just means that my experience has been easier (not just different) than my husband’s for reasons outside of our control.
I accept that in life, some things have been easier for me than for others because I’ve had certain blessings (privileges). Going to college was easier for me than for many of my friends because I was born to parents who had been to college and provided me with constant guidance, information and support along the way. They could pay for my tuition and books, while I had friends who had to sit out every other semester due to financial strain. Did I also study hard in high school and college, perform well on the SAT, participate in extra-curricular activities? Yes. I did my part, but my journey has been easier than some. Admittedly, I sometimes feel guilty, or unexplainably embarrassed, but I must own my story and respect others’ stories.
Similarly, have I struggled as a Black person in America. Absolutely, I have been called Nigger more than once, told I was dumb, left out of activities, followed around stores like I’m a criminal and so on. But, I have listened to my darker-skinned Sistas. I have respected their stories; I sat at rapt attention at the documentary “Dark Girls.” I have received benefits and privileges in this country because I have lighter skin. This is an ugly truth; but it is the truth.
Truth — accepting yours, and allowing others to live theirs — is powerfully affirming, healing and bonding. It says to those in your life, “I see you fully. Even though your truth may make me uncomfortable, accepting it allows us to have a more authentic relationship.” Someone else’s truth doesn’t diminish your story.
But repeatedly, I am confronted about the term privilege, especially White Privilege. I can imagine that a White person who has struggled, worked hard, perhaps come from poverty or abuse, feels as if his story is diminished when someone dare use the term “privilege.” It doesn’t. Their truth is still real and valid; but privilege is a part of their truth as a White person in America; just as being a woman is part of mine. A White person is 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as an equally qualified Black person; Black men make 72 cents for every dollar a White man makes; a Black college student has the same chances of getting a job, as a White high school dropout; Blacks are less than 13% of our population and make up only 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses. Even if a White person is poor, grew up without parents, and abused; he has a smaller chance of being followed in a store or stopped by the police than an educated Black man. White privilege is undeniable.
When someone denies White privilege, they are also denying Black pain and history; and healing can’t begin until someone’s pain is acknowledged. Acknowledging someone else’s pain and struggle doesn’t diminish one’s own. To the contrary, it opens the door for genuine conversations, healing, bonding, and respect. An illness can’t be treated until we accept that we are sick.