Yesterday I was pulled over for driving 39 in a 25. After checking my license, but not my insurance because I didn’t have my current card, the cop let me go with a request that I slow down.
Which got me thinking about my colleague AJT. AJT is a whip-smart, stylish and beautiful, well-educated woman. She is a person I admire. When AJT gets pulled over for speeding she always gets a ticket. And she gets pulled over. A lot. AJT is black.
AJT has shared with me several times about getting lots of tickets, and I thought we were both chuckling over her poor luck and gravity to speed traps. Even after she shared that she had to hire a lawyer to fight being denied a well-deserved promotion solely because of those tickets, I still didn’t intellectually make the connection between the frequency of her being ticketed and her race.
I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but another colleague of color once shared that he had gone through a bit of depression after looking around his neighborhood and realizing that no one else looked like him. And that is what finally struck a nerve for me. Someone I know is sad because of historical red-lining and persistent white-flight, our community lacks diversity in even the tiniest degree.
Hearing that expression of sadness, followed by BLM protests and pushback from racists I didn’t realize still populated the earth, have had me thinking about race and starting to do the work of understanding where we came from, where we are, how we got here, and how I can influence where we are heading.
With neighbors, I’m reading and discussing White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo. It’s tough going. It’s very difficult to see myself within those pages and not retreat to the comfort of not having to do that work.
So, as I pulled away from that benevolent officer I was reminded of a question Randall Horton’ asks in an August 2020 article The Awakening of the American White Mind, “What privileges of race are you not willing to give up?”
Apparently, I’m not willing to give up a clean driving record and lower insurance. Had I, in the moment I was told “I’m going to let you go with a request to slow down” thought about the implications of getting off scott free, would I have been brave enough to suggest I be treated as AJK, were she the one in the drivers seat? Would I have been brave enough to ask that officer if he ever treated black drivers differently?
As I reflect on what being an ally means, I’m wondering how my looking inward and finding myself lacking can manifest itself into action. And do I have the courage, am I willing to give up the privileges of my race, to the benefit of AJK?