The other day I was having a group conversation with a culturally diverse group. The race was pretty monolithic. Mostly white American or white Latin. In this conversation a guy tells us this story. The story starts with him telling his mom she is a “bitch” in french (I’ll give you one guess as to what his race is). He then takes his mom’s car and jumps on the turnpike going 120, swerving in and out of traffic dodging cars like he is in Grand Theft Auto. At a certain point a car “cut him off”, as he says, because the road is obviously his and anyone with the audacity to change lanes going normal speed in front of him must be just the most incredibly self-centered piece of shit that ever existed. This forces him to switch into the shoulder of the road outside of the lanes to avoid hitting the car in front of him. He then tries to switch back into the lane but as his tires go over the rumble strip to go back into the lane he begins to lose control. He begins to very intricately describe to us how time just slowed down, his car tail spins a couple times, hits the median wall, flips, tumbles, rolls, and finally stops upside down where he can see the skin of his forehead lying on the dashboard. A chopper has to be called to the scene in order to get him to a hospital on time to save his life. He says it very matter of fact.
After telling his story I ask him, “so during all that, you never feared for your life? You never once thought you would die?” He replied, very simply, “no.” Not much tonality or inflection to it. Almost matter of fact like, why would he? I was stunned. Then he said he hadn’t really learned his lesson. He said he still goes 120 on the turnpike regularly and that he actually was pulled over a couple of months ago going 120 on the turnpike. I stopped him again and said “you know that is reckless endangerment and you can go to jail for that, and don’t you already have a charge on your head that you are doing probation for? You know that a cop can use that you are on probation to do whatever he wants? He can pull you over and search your car and violate you for just about anything, especially if you are doing 120 on the expressway, and with your existing charge you are looking at years! Are you crazy?!” He replied back “I don’t know man, maybe because I’m white cops never really do anything to me when they pull me over for speeding, they just give me a ticket and send me on my way.”
I was in awe. Not because I did not already realize that the criminal justice system and police stops are vastly different for white people than it is for people of color. No, what really shocked me here was how incredibly inherent his white privilege had now manifested itself in him. He isn’t even from this country but he knows that the police here will treat him different because he is white. I find that white people from other countries are often more aware of the existence of white privilege and can name it better than white people from the US (I’d love to hear other’s perspectives on this thought in the comments). He has years on his head and he knows that his whiteness will keep him out of jail. I responded by telling a story about a time I was in Martin County, FL and got pulled over for rolling a stop sign. They immediately told me to get out my car and ran dogs around my car to see if I had any drugs on me. He responded “It’s because of your beard and your color man you look like you can be muslim.” I couldn’t help but laugh at this now.
I started to reflect more on the first story he told me though and think, could his white privilege had played a role there? Who in their right mind can experience that traumatic of an accident and not question their existence. Not once fear for their life. Is that another inherent trait of white privilege? Is there an inherent perceived infallibility of white privilege? What I mean is do white people think that just because of who they are (some may be able to name it as because they are white but most probably can’t) they will somehow always make it through. As marginalized people, black, brown, immigrants, etc. we are constantly confronted with our mortality and fallibility. Second chances for us don’t come very easily so we are acutely aware of how easily our whole world can fall to pieces. From poverty, gang violence, low quality food, crossing borders on hastily constructed boats, forced engagement in “alternative” economics (drugs, prostitution, etc.), state violence (police, prisons, schools, etc.); something will get us. With white people are they so used to things always finding a way to work themselves out that even death at a young age is something that they think will just “work itself out”? This was a mind boggling concept for me but at the same time revealed my newest theory:
White people, like banks, think they are too big to fail.