"The difference between knowing and understanding"
September 3, 2014 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Matt Zoller Seitz writes about his personal experience with coming to understand his own white privilege, in particular with interactions with police.

Previously 1, 2, 3, 4.
posted by Librarypt (7 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I read this in the big Ferguson thread a few weeks ago. Heartbreaking, and I'm glad that this young man's son gets it. He will grow up to be one of the good guys, like his dad.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2014

This is not: "Well, if ya factor out race, it's a class thing." We all know in our hearts that that is, at best, only partly true.

This. I hear this on Metafilter every day. And it's true, but as he says, it's only partially true.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like how this article has a very clear-cut example that illustrates it's not that all white people are rich and successful but that white privilege is something that permeates our society and manifests itself in many different ways. And its effects are cumulative as well as discrete in upholding inequality.
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:35 PM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ask any skeptical white person if they'd trade being white for being black in America, then ask them why, and they'll pretty much solve the proof of white privilege for you in their own words.
posted by echocollate at 1:41 PM on September 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

I haven't had such a stark example, but looking back, I had a police encounter that might have been different if I wasn't white.

Back in 2001, I was in Long Beach, CA for Anime Expo, a huge anime convention, which was on the 4th of July weekend that year. I was driving back to a friend's house from the convention one night, and I made a left turn from a middle lane, not realizing which lane I should have been in and not wanting to miss the turn. A cop saw that, and I was pulled over a few blocks from the Long Beach Convention Center.

Once I pulled over on a side-street, it took the police a few minutes to leave his car before approaching mine. My Afghani friend told me to keep my hands on the wheel, because he looked back and saw the police officer had his hand on his gun. The officer had run my plates, and found my registration had expired. I gave him my insurance and license, and everything was in order, except the tags. In the end, my car was towed away, and the only hassle was getting it back on Monday morning, which was only a minor inconvenience for me, as a college student with a flexible schedule and friends who could drive me over to the impound lot.

I had flaked on that, and expired plates never were a significant concern as potential for increased interaction with police. I was later told it was a bit of a rough part of town, and the cop probably thought my old Buick LeSabre was stolen. But I was never harassed by the police, and I never felt threatened. I am white, and I was oblivious to my privileged in that exchange, and the fact I had the safety net of well-to-do friends who had their own car to drive me to the impound lot didn't dawn on me, either.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:01 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

My own encounter came the night The Exploited played in Huntington Park. The show was sold out presale, but that didn't stop them from selling tickets at the door. By the time people who had tickets showed up the fire marshall wasn't letting anyone else inside, so the people outside thought breaking windows would be a good idea. Needless to say every cop in the area was parked outside within about 10 minutes.

Of course I was parked right across from the door to the club and completely blocked in. They chased everybody out into the neighborhood, and every time I circled the block to get to my car they chased me back the other way. So I decided I had to do something.

The next time around I had three cops approaching, telling me to turn around. Two had their hands on their nightsticks, but the third had a glint of sense in his eye that I latched on to and poured out my sob story. He let me go to my car if I promised to stay put.

For years I've thought that experiences like this gave me some insight on what it would be like to be a minority in this country dealing with the police. But in following the Ferguson story I've realized I don't know crap. There's approximately zero chance a black man would be successful doing what I did, it'd probably be crazy to try.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:48 PM on September 3, 2014

> I was in Long Beach, CA

You just reminded me of something that happened decades ago when I was walking at night in Long Beach. I was stopped by some cops who pulled up in their cruiser and asked what I was doing walking there—yes, I was stopped by the cops for walking, and I thought bitterly of Ray Bradbury as I explained politely that I was visiting my aunt and uncle who lived right down the street there (pointing), and they nodded and drove off. It didn't occur to me until this very moment that if I'd been black it might well have gone very differently.

Thanks for this post; that's a superb essay (not that I'd expect anything else of Seitz).
posted by languagehat at 5:59 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

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