White Privilege: A Tale of Two Forms

First him, then me.

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Stella and the Rage Monkey had a moment today so while this post/rant is not pregnancy-specific, the burning ire that fueled me in the interaction I’m about to relate must be somewhat due to the little Rage Monkey. If not, well, it’s just entirely Stella and I have nowhere else to blog this… and it was simply too long for a Facebook post.

Scene: driving through a two-lane roundabout from the train station back home after a doctor’s appointment (the Rage Monkey and I are doing well, even though I’ve lost 3 pounds since the last weigh-in). I’m in a decent mood and planning to rewatch Trolls for the umpteenth time while curled up with the pets–and this is in spite of the fact that my stomach is questioning the little cheeseburger I ate from Five Guys with John for lunch after the appointment.

I’m in the right lane because that’s the lane that shoots off in the direction I need to go home. As I’m accelerating where I’m straightening out (but still only going about 25-30mph), some douchebag decides to try to merge into my lane from the left lane WITHOUT looking or signalling and almost hits me. The driver has the audacity to honk at me, as if it’s my fault that they’re a bad driver, so I honk back in righteous indignation. Then I flip them a bird out of my rolled-down window for good measure. As I’m beginning to calm my breathing, the last thing I expect happens: the car turns on its fucking police lights and siren to pull me over.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME.

The dark Chevy something-or-other (older Cavalier maybe?) undercover police car pulls me over about fifty feet from the traffic circle (roundabout, whatever), and of course, a middle-aged white man (likely cishet, seemingly able-bodied) calmly walks up to my door as I’m smoldering. I’m so furious that if I were a cartoon, steam would be coming out of my ears. He proceeds to say something along the lines of “Blah blah, unnecessary, blah blah.” I can’t help it. I’m not even listening to him.

I reply, barely controlling our rage, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was in the right lane, and you almost hit me because you weren’t looking and didn’t signal.”

Now, he’s trying to talk over me about “uncalled for” something, and I–gasp–interrupt him and ask, already knowing the answer, “Was anything that I just did illegal?”

“No,” he answers, “But this isn’t about the law. This is about your attitude–”

I feel like Mount Vesuvius about to destroy Pompeii with volcanic ash. I feel like the angry oyster sticker on Facebook–you know, the red-orange one that’s basically leaping out of its shell, desperate to spread its wrath. I feel like every toddler who’s ever thrown a tantrum because the stupid adults can’t understand what they’re trying to communicate.

Again, I interrupt him, “Then may I go?”

He stops talking, clearly taken aback by my attitude, and says in resignation, “Yes, you can go.”

As he’s walking back to his car, shaking his head, I audibly call him “a fucking asshole” and leave.

Now, the two forms of white privilege exhibited here are both his and mine. He exercised his white (distinctively male) privilege in his position as a police officer to pull over a woman (invisibly Latina) in order to tone police her. If I had been a middle-aged white man, like him, I highly doubt he would have pulled me over for the same exact behavior.

But, Carla, how do you know that he knew you were a woman?

Because my window was rolled all the way down, my purple hair was flying out the window, and I flipped him off with my left hand, which bears an engagement ring, not just a wedding band. If he could see my hand, which was bent up towards the sky with my elbow on the window ledge, then he most certainly could have seen my hair and likely my face. He knew I was a woman. Plain and simple.

Further, if I had been a person of color (as opposed to an invisible Latina, as I call myself), he likely would have reacted the same as he had with me. But, again, not if his peer, a middle-aged white man, had done the same. Likewise, I really doubt a female officer would have done as he did (hence the “distinctively male” part of the white privilege). And here’s where my privilege comes into play.

Had I been visibly/audibly Latina, or a black person, or any other visibly/audibly obvious racial or ethnic minority, I could not have gotten away with the attitude that I gave him in our interaction. I could not have interrupted him, demanded to know if I had committed any legal transgressions, and then asked (though my tone implied a demand) if I could go. Instead, I likely would have ended up like many people of color do when faced with unwarranted police stops: arrested, physically and/or psychologically abused, and/or dead. I like to think that being aware of my own white privilege helps and pointing out moments like this, especially when they involve the police (this is the second time I’ve given such attitude to an officer–the first time was down in Florida with a sheriff’s deputy who had been tailgating me until I hit 10mph over; then he pulled me over for speeding. Ha! As if–I got out of that with my attitude, too, and the fact that John was sitting in the passenger seat as a witness).

Maybe flipping off other drivers is rude, a gesture provoked in a moment of absolute rage at another person and likely adopted from living in NYC for six years. But merging into another person’s lane without looking or signaling is fucking dangerous (not to mention a traffic violation in the state of New York)! Instead of policing the attitudes and manners of women who are literally doing nothing illegal, stop wasting my fucking tax dollars and do your damn job. Oh, and follow your own fucking traffic laws, you pig.

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