Seeking Justice: Was That White Privilege?

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Black Lives Matter has utterly transformed the way I see the world. Nearly two years of its presence in my life has caused me to evaluate things like gentrification and urban renewal like never before. Are these fancy words that thinly veil racism in my city? It’s almost like I traded in my rose colored glasses for a pair that shows the world in HD. But then there’s the ambiguity of it all. For example, I have become convinced that White Privilege is real, but I find it difficult to identify exactly where and when I have experienced it. This ambiguity has led many to deny its existence and others to call those who insist it’s real “Race Baiters”. Somewhere in the midst of it all is me, a 30 something white man trying real hard to wake up.

I remember a time a few years ago when I was incredibly “lucky” after being pulled over only 3 blocks from my old house on the West side of Denver in the Barnum neighborhood. “What’s the problem officer?” I respectfully asked. “You’re headlight’s out.” I began to worry. When I was a kid I was in the car when my mother got a “fix-it ticket” for a similar issue. Money was tight and I really didn’t want to have to pay a fine.

I was planning the speech in my head about how I would fix it first thing in the morning, so as to avoid a ticket. But before I could spit the words out, he asked me for my proof of insurance. I grabbed the card from the glove box and handed it to him. He took it from me and then said “This one’s expired.” Oh no! The new one is on my coffee table at home! I know exactly where it’s at! This just went from bad to worse! First I might get a fix-it ticket, and now I will have a fine for not having my proof of insurance on me.

That’s when the strangest thing happened. As I profusely apologized for leaving the other card at home, he disinterestedly waved his hand and said, “I’m not going to give you a ticket. Just go home.”

I remember going home thinking that I was lucky I got an officer who didn’t want to go through the trouble of writing a ticket. Still I found it strange that he just let me go when I couldn’t provide proof of insurance. I found it strange, but I decided not to question it. I chalked it up to luck and mostly forgot the story—until recently.

Barnum is a largely poor and Latino neighborhood. There are several gangs that claim the streets as their own. Gun shots were a fairly regular occurrence and we never doubted that lots of drugs and weapons made their way through the neighborhood daily. Also, my car wasn’t the nicest. It was a simple Dodge Stratus with a couple dents in it—and apparently a broken headlight. I can’t help but wonder if the officer expected to find someone else driving my car in my neighborhood. I also can’t help but wonder if he had hoped that a broken headlight might turn into a search and seizure, but dismissed the idea once he saw me in the driver’s seat.

Maybe it truly was just an officer who wanted to make sure I got the headlight fixed and had no interest in writing the ticket, no matter who was driving. But then, maybe my “luck” was really me benefiting from a broken system of assumptions that is heavily bent in my favor. Maybe.

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