I am a middle class white woman. I have recently turned 19 years old. To many, I look like how many people want women to look: smaller built, slightly athletic, green eyes, brown hair, but most importantly white. You might wonder why I describe white as my most important feature. My whiteness determines so much for me in my life. My whiteness allows me so many more opportunities than people of color. And I have never been so acutely aware of how lucky I am until recently. I’ve always known I’ve held an advantage as an average looking white woman, but I have just realized how my appearance can be the difference between my life and death.
A few months ago, my friends and I had an encounter with the local police. My friends and I were being silly college students. Obviously, this freaked me out. I could not go to jail and I could not stand the thought of letting my parents down. But the one thing that never crossed my mind was the fact that I might be killed.
My friends and I were in trouble, but we should’ve been in a lot more trouble than we got in. We should’ve been assigned a court date. We should’ve been written up. We should’ve each gotten a fine. We should’ve had some sort of consequence. But we didn’t. We left our encounter with the police without even so much as a warning. We left our encounter completely unscathed.
Until I heard about Sandra Bland, I never really understood how lucky I was. Until Sandra Bland, I didn’t understand that police brutality occurs over tiny offenses. Until Sandra Bland, I wasn’t so acutely aware of my white privilege. I was not arrested because I was white. I was caught breaking the law, and I suffered no repercussions, except for being told to “be more careful next time.”
Sandra Bland’s “crime” was nothing in comparison to my crime. She forgot to signal as she changed lanes. She stood her ground when an officer tried to make her believe she had done more wrong. I was caught in the act of an activity that is illegal where I go to school. I was questioned by the police as well. Not once was I treated with violence or cruelty. I complied because I knew I had broken a law. Sandra Bland had no reason and no grounds to comply. She was forced to break a law (resisting arrest) after being provoked by an unwarranted “arrest.”
Had I been a black individual, I do not know if I would be writing this. Perhaps I would’ve been punched to the ground. Perhaps my mug shot would’ve been taken after life had left my body. Then maybe people would say it was my fault for having evidence of drugs in my system, and that I deserved it. But I’m alive. I am alive and I have my white privilege to thank for that. There have been people of color who have committed the same offense as me and my friends who are in prison for it, if not dead. I’m lucky, but at what cost to those who aren’t?
So I ask you, those-who-deny-the-existence-of-white-privilege:
When you live in a country where an entire group of people is afraid that a routine traffic stop may result in their death, what kind of country do we live in? What kind of country declares a war on drugs, but really only on people of color or of a lower socio-economic status? What kind of country allows to watch crimes against people of color go on, and refuse to admit there is a problem? Why won’t people with the advantage stand up for the voices everyone else refuses to hear? What are you so scared of and why? Are you afraid that you might be killed for it? Guess what, people in this country are already being killed simply because of the color of their skin. They don’t have the advantage you and I have, and you need to realize and acknowledge the systematic oppression of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. No one is attacking you for your skin color, but people of color are being killed for theirs and all you care about is that you get called out on your privilege.
White and Alive