My White Privilege


I am a middle aged white woman.

If I were suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes on a street corner, I would not be tackled by five police officers and put into a choke hold.

You know this is true.

If I burst into a jog just as a police car pulled up, the police would not exit the car, chase me, and knock me to the ground.

If I were walking down a dark road, and the police pulled up next to me to tell me that I was walking too far from the curb, even if I responded rudely,  I wouldn’t end up being shot to death.

“Things like that” don’t happen to “people like me.”

If I wore a hoodie in the rain at night as I walked through a suburban neighborhood, I would not be followed by someone who thought I might be a burglar.

“Things like that” don’t happen to “people like me.”


And if it did happen, and I ran down that dark suburban street in the rain wearing my hoodie, fleeing the person who was stalking me, and then that person shot me dead, when the police arrived, the shooter, not me, would be assumed to be the guilty party.

What about you?

If you, as a law abiding citizen, got pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and as you are sitting there waiting for the police officer to return with your driver’s license, would you find yourself fretting about being late for an appointment, or the cost of a potential fine, or the worst case scenario of points on your license?

If your answer is yes, you are probably a white person like me.

It would never occur to you that you could be taken into custody, and be dead in a jail cell in two days.

Because that sort of thing does not, would not, could not, happen to someone like you.

It would never occur to you that in a few minutes, you could be sodomized on the side of the road, in broad daylight, frantically insisting that the police officer is pressing his fingers against a hemorrhoid, not contraband, as your wife’s breasts are bared to passing cars.

“Things like that” don’t happen to “people like us.”

It would never occur to you that if you were stopped for failure to wear a seatbelt, that the passenger window of your car would be smashed with an axe, shattering glass that flies in the faces of your two little children as your daughter screams in terror.  And your son has the composure to keep videotaping the incident.


“Things like that” don’t happen to “people like us.” Because we enjoy white privilege. We did nothing to earn that privilege. We don’t even think of it as privilege. It is just normal.

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that somehow, the people in the scenarios above must have done something to deserve whatever happened to them.

Maybe you think that you have no privilege at all. Other people have privilege. VIP’s. Politicians. Sports stars. Not people like you.

Politicians like New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams. He was walking with a staff member from the New York City Public Advocate’s office, en route to a VIP event after the West Indian Day Parade. The street had been barricaded off, to facilitate VIP’s attending the event. You know. Privileged people.

The police at the barricade did not think that Councilmember Williams looked like a VIP. They refused to even look at his City Council Identification card. He was told to move along. The Councilmember did not move along. He took out his cell phone and called the New York City Police Commissioner. And while he was on the phone with the Commissioner, the police officers at the barricade decided he was being insubordinate or some such thing, and then jumped him. Knocked him to the ground. Handcuffed him. In this video you see his companion, the aid to then Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, being knocked to the ground and handcuffed as well. You see the police kicking him in the back of the knees, pushing his face to the ground. You hear the Councilmember’s constituents screaming in outrage as they watch their elected official is being assaulted.

Because the Councilmember is a VIP, he later got an official apology from the Commissioner.

Most black men who get jumped and handcuffed for no reason get no apologies from anyone. And often they get charged. Sometimes the charge is simply “resisting arrest.” And then they have a record. And some post-traumatic stress which comes to the surface the next time they find themselves in the company of the police.

James Blake was once the #4 ranked tennis player in the world. He is another VIP who got an official apology from the NYC Police Commissioner when he was jumped by police and knocked to the ground. He was waiting for a car to pick him up from the Hyatt and take him to the US Open.



But he looked suspicious. As black men so often do, standing in front of hotels in broad daylight. Or in front of 7-11’s at dusk. Or on suburban streets in the afternoon. Or hailing a cab on 5th Avenue. Or walking through parks. Or hanging out near jewelry stores or supermarkets or schools or elevators or street corners.

As a middle aged white woman, I don’t look suspicious hanging out in front of hotels. Or 7-11’s. Or suburban streets. Or 5th Avenue. Or in parks. Or near jewelry stores or supermarkets or schools or elevators or street corners.

I will never get jumped by the police (or neighborhood vigilantes) for standing or walking in any of those venues. It will not happen to me.

You know this is true.

That is my white privilege. A small part of my white privilege. And a snapshot of one aspect of the institutionalized racism that continues to exist in our society.


Photo by Bruce Armstrong


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