This Post is for White People. This is what Privilege looks like.

Posted: July 23, 2016 in On Our Minds

I haven’t been blogging lately as the nature of this blog is changing. To what? I am not sure, although today I am compelled to write.

Today I did my first act of successful witnessing.

Two black women  had been pulled over by the police.

I pulled up beside them, unrolled my window and asked if they wanted a witness. The driver said yes. I parked my car (illegally) and got out of the car with my cell phone. I kept a “respectful” distance away from the police and also from the women in the car.

The woman in the passenger seat looked to me as if she was having a  traumatized response. She was having difficulty breathing and was shaking uncontrollably.  I moved a little bit closer, slowly –  (after all, I am white, and I could be triggering her as well) and asked if they needed anything. The driver said “water” and reached out some money to me. I did not take the money. I went and got the water and gave to the woman. The driver said to me: “with all that is going on, we just don’t know, we just don’t know” inbetween trying to assist the passenger with breathing and calming. She said to me, “we will feel better when the cop leaves.” I moved away from their car.

The cop asked, “can I speak to you for a moment.” I moved towards him so that he would not come towards the women. He said, “she appears to be having a panic attack.” I said, “Absolutely. Are you done? I  think it would assist if you were able to leave.” He got in his car and left.

The driver then asked the passenger if she wanted to get out. I opened the door and held out my hand to help her to get out of the car, which was really difficult given how scared she was. She said, “hold me, hold me” and I reached out to hug her but realized within two seconds that she was not able to relax with me. By that time the driver was there and was able to hold her and calm her down. The driver also talked with me a lot about their fear, and I listened.

The passenger calmed down. Not totally, but enough that she was able to stop shaking. Her eyes were red. Her skin was clammy. I say these things because that was how it was when I left.  Totally traumatized. I asked if they needed anything else in the moment or if there was anything else I could do for them.

In case people don’t know or understand I want to break down the privilege part: 1. I was able to witness. 2. I was able to be calm around the cop because I personally have not had negative experiences with cops. 3. I was treated with respect from the cop. 4. I was able to leave and feel as if I were making a difference and that my day was richer for the experience. 5. I was not harassed or penalized in any way for parking illegally. 6, 7, 8, 9.  I’m sure there are even more ways I am not yet aware of how much privilege I had in this interaction. These points are not given, are never if rarely the experience of my friends that are people of color in their interactions with the police. This is white privilege.

If a white person had been a driver and needed help would they have had their wits about them enough to offer money for what was needed? The fact that this woman offered me money in the midst of what must have been her own fear and trauma, the fear and trauma of her loved one, and the legacy of trauma she and her people have experienced from those in “authority”  not to mention the  basic hassle and frustration of being pulled over and given a ticket shows her amazing skill and resilience in the face of a huge amount of stress.

White people do not have this stress and trauma. This is privilege.

Out of the entire experience the fact that she offered me money is what I keep coming back to. I am not at all surprised by it, but it touched me at a deep level. I honestly think if I were in the same situation I wouldn’t have thought to offer money in the moment (maybe after, when the person brought the water). This is itself speaks volumes about my privilege and entitlement, not to mention my assumption that people have enough money on them to buy a bottle of water.

Her offer of the money for the water speaks volumes. It said, “I don’t want anything for free. I just want to be treated like a normal human being.”

 

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Comments
  1. yasminshiraz says:

    It was great of you to share this experience. So many whites don’t believe blacks when they say how they are treated by police. Because of their ‘white privilege’ experience, it seems that many whites cannot believe how different our experiences can be. But I live it and see it. When I speak to white colleagues, they have experiences similar to yours, Amy. I remember one of my colleagues in LA–a white woman with long blonde hair–say that she had been stopped by police many times but never once been given a ticket. She was over 50. I didn’t judge her for her experience, but they certainly weren’t the same as mine. I remember telling my husband, a black man, about my colleague’s police run-ins, and like me he could not relate. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

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