I’ve been thinking a lot about the white privileges I have. And I remembered an incident from years ago in Tucson.
My spouse and I were struggling college students at the time. We had started delivering newspapers, desperate for some extra income.
Our newspaper route had us folding and delivering our papers very early in the morning. We’re talking the time of night when people are leaving bars or working graveyard shifts.
On more than one occasion, we saw a pack of coyotes moving from yard to yard while we folded and bagged our newspapers.
A part of our delivery route took us into a fairly well-to-do neighborhood. It was the larger part of our route, and we had to walk a winding path through the townhouses to deliver our papers.
One night, I was feeling very ill. I was battling nausea, low energy, and so on. But I didn’t want to let Jen deliver papers alone that night. I helped fold, and we both tossed papers through the part of the route we could drive.
When it came time for the end of our route and the trek through the townhouses, Jen insisted that I stay in the car and rest.
Here’s the scene: It was the middle of the night, probably 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. I was wearing scruffy, dark clothing and a baseball cap. I was slumped over in the vehicle, leaning my head against the window.
I remember how I felt at the time. It was that miserable, silently-begging-and-praying stage of being sick. You know the one, where you count each breath, concentrating on something mundane in hopes you won’t vomit or realize how long it will be until you can crawl back into bed and truly feel how sick you are.
While I was sitting there, a car pulled up behind our vehicle. I didn’t notice it at first because I was just feeling too shitty.
A knock on the window, and I turned to look. There was a cop standing there. He had a flashlight in one hand and the other resting on the butt of his gun. He tapped again on the glass and said, “Hey, you want to roll down your window, please? Do you live around here? What are you doing out here?”
I rolled down the window and started stammering, “Hello, Officer. I’m a newspaper-delivery person. This is our route. I don’t feel well, so my roommate is finishing the route. She’s carrying the papers around now.” I jerked a thumb behind me, where a few leftover papers rested on the back seat. “See? These are the extras from tonight.”
Just then, Jen came out from between two townhouses. She was behind the cop, and he didn’t see her.
Like me, she was wearing dark, scruffy clothes and a baseball cap. (Jen is also 5’8” in height and wears her hair shorter, two facts which sometimes make people mistake her gender.)
“There she is!” I pointed behind the cop.
At the same moment, Jen said, “Hey, who are you? What’s happening? Ruth, are you okay?” At first glance, she couldn’t tell that it was a cop standing by the car. She just saw a male outline by our car, and she knew I felt sick.
The cop swung around but fortunately did not draw his gun.
Looking back, I can only assume that our voices marked us as two white women. I’m guessing he could also tell that we were in our early twenties. And we were clearly scared to be interacting with the police.
He asked us a few more questions, which we answered with our best manners and grammar. Neither Jen nor I can recall if he checked our IDs or ran our plates.
I wonder how that incident would have played out if either of us was a person of color. Would we have been sent along home? I rather doubt it.
That, folks, is a time I can point to when my identity as a white woman clearly worked in my favor.
That’s aside from the fact that nearly every business, advertisement, and institution in this country is structured to treat me with deference and favoritism.
We must do better by our neighbors, colleagues, friends who are people of color. We must dismantle our racially biased systems for ones that are actually equitable and equal.
It’s long overdue.
Petitions, Organizations Looking for Donations, and so on: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSrT26HMWX-_hlLfiyy9s95erjkOZVJdroXYkU-miaHRk58duAnJIUWKxImRkTITsYhwaFkghS8sfIF/pub?urp=gmail_link
Anti-Racism Resources for those of us wanting to be better informed: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/preview?pru=AAABcps_0_w*-PBw4ooiFQNcrrfCue9C9w
(Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash)