My White Privilege Experience
As I looked in my rearview, I saw the Warrenton Police Dodge Charger pull out of its spot. My heart started throbbing and my mind started racing. With blue and red lights flashing behind me, I slowly drove into an empty auto parts store; I was mortified.
During my junior year of high school, I was caught speeding into town with my friend, coming home from a Boy Scout meeting. I can come up with a million excuses for why it happened. It’s a speed trap, I was stressed out with schoolwork, and I was so out of it that I just didn’t register the cop sitting there from a quarter-mile away. But at the end of the day, I was an immature teenage driver flying into a town road late on a Monday night.
Immediately after seeing him start following me, my mind filled with questions: “Where do I even pull off?”, “What’s my friend going to think”, and worst of all, “How much trouble am I going to be in with my parents?”
I pulled into a parking lot and the officer pulled in behind me. He came up to my window, nicely introduced himself, covered the basics, and asked for my license and registration. I made sure to be polite and honest, praying that I’d get off with a warning. As he went back to his car to run my information, a haunting thought returned: “How am I going to tell my parents?”
The officer came back and he had a question:
“Do you have a parent I can talk to?”
I almost did a double-take, not ever heard of such a thing happening. I quickly said yes, giving him my dad’s phone number. The officer left again to call, and although I was nervous about how their conversation would go, I felt a sense of relief thinking that him taking the time to call was a good sign.
One last time, the officer walked up to my window. He said he spoke to my father and was going to let him deal with the consequences I would face, and I’d just be getting a warning this time.
He left, pulled out of the lot, and I breathed a big sigh of relief. I knew this still wouldn’t slide with my parents, but it also could’ve been a lot worse.
Years later, this event has become a situation that I continually reflect on. It took a long time for white privilege to “click” as a concept to me. Listening to many of the amplified voices of Black men, I hear of the fear of being pulled over time and time again.
Time and time again, I hear that Black men fear that a simple traffic stop will be the moment they die.
Time and time again, I watch the news and hear about another Black man unjustly killed because of an escalated traffic stop.
Time and time again, I hear that Black fathers must explain to their Black sons and daughters on how to handle being pulled over. That one single wrong move means their kid won’t be coming home that night.
I now know that the way I was treated that night was the result of white privilege. I obviously can’t say for sure that the officer doesn’t do the same for the Black kids of our Warrenton community, but I do think it’s safe to infer. It was an implicit bias that the officer felt comfortable calling my father and let him handle my consequences. I don’t know whether he would have done the same if my skin color had been different.
The solution to this is consistency. I am a firm believer that there are long-standing flaws and biases in our police department, and truly our communities as a whole. Youth need to be treated the same, regardless of color. We can’t cut some speeding teens a break, and others end up with their car being searched based solely on race.
The point of this is not that I know how to solve systemic racism.