I don’t have time to be doing this. I have a major deadline just around the corner, and I need to be working on that, but at the same time, I feel like I need to tell this story.
It happened many years ago. I was dating this awesome guy. In so many ways, we just clicked, you know? And the two of us went on a double-date with his brother and the brother’s girlfriend—would it be rude of me to refer to her as The Wildebeest? It would? Good. I couldn’t stand that woman. Let her be so named forever more.
Anyway, I loved my boyfriend, and at the same time he was besties with his brother, so even though I didn’t care for the Wildebeest, we all went on a double date together, because it made my boyfriend and his brother happy. Actually, as I recall, it was a pretty good time even with the Wildebeest there. This must have been before she said The Thing that inspired me to Never Speak To Her Again.
So, we had this good time, and we were out late. I don’t think any of us had even been drinking. It was just some light-hearted thing we were out doing, a movie maybe, or mini-golf or the arcade or something. The four of us were in Boyfriend’s car, and he was driving us home, one by one. First stop was The Wildebeest, because she was closest, and also because I was the girlfriend of the driver. 😉 Rank hath its privileges, right? So we were moseying along a commercial lane in this sleepy, little part of L.A. (yes, L.A. does have sleepy bits, not many, but they do exist) toward her house or herd or whatever, and suddenly there were flashing lights and the WHOOP-WHOOP of a “pullover” siren. So Boyfriend pulled over.
Two cops got out of their car with their flashlights and very officially started checking out the front seat and the backseat. I’m trying to remember why, but I’m pretty sure the Wildebeest and I were both in the backseat. Maybe the brother had been out of town and just got back? That would explain why we did the double date, too— get all the peoples in the same place at the same time for hanging out, because it had been too long.
So the cops were waving their flashlights all over the car, and then they started asking my boyfriend first the normal questions— license and registration and so forth, but as they kept talking, the questions got weirder and weirder. Have you been drinking? Are you on drugs? Have you ever been arrested?
And I’m thinking, “Arrested? What the serious fuck?” I mean, you ask that of people who were weaving in and out of lanes. You ask that of people who have drugs flying out of the open windows as you’re doing 60 MPH down a residential street. Or at the very least, you ask that of people who aren’t wearing their seatbelts, because clearly they are also the kind of people who burn flags or were born in the Serengeti or something. But you don’t ask that of kids coming home from a date— well, not the kind of date I would have gone on, anyway. Pollyanna is me.
THEN, they started asking me and the Wildebeest what we were doing in the car, and I was like, “We were on a date, and now we’re going home?” And they asked if I was sure. And again I was thinking, “What IS this? I don’t understand.” But all I said was, “Yes, I’m sure.” Wildebeest, for once, agreed with me. I think she was too scared of them to sass back, which was a First— and possibly an Only.
The cops gave my boyfriend and his brother a final Look and then told us to be on our way. So we Went On Our Way. And we started to dissect the whole encounter, because that’s what you do after a brush like that. We were all talking excitedly. Boyfriend was convinced that he was thiiiis close to getting arrested, which I thought was him just blowing things out of proportion for comedic effect. But then I said the thing I couldn’t wrap my head around. “I don’t understand why they pulled us over in the first place. Don’t they need a reason? I mean, we all had our seatbelts on, you weren’t driving dangerously. You didn’t even blow through a stop sign. We were just driving. I’m not even sure that traffic stop of theirs was legal. They had no cause.”
My boyfriend looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, “It’s because you’re both white, and we’re both brown. They thought we had kidnapped you.”
And there it was.
No one got shot—or even arrested—that night, thank God. But that night was the first of many times I got to witness what White Privilege means. It means that it never even occurred to me that we could get pulled over for anything other than doing something visibly illegal. It means that I was completely confused by police officers speaking to my boyfriend in anything other than tones of respect, let alone flashing lights in his eyes. It means that I was never once in that encounter worried about getting shot. But my boyfriend was.
Photo found here: https://nature.ca/notebooks/english/gnu_p8.htm