When I was a much younger Doc, AM and BC (after marriage and before kids), I worked with Lynn.
Lynn was older than me–in the way that when you are young everyone seems older, but looking back she hardly was. She was the backbone of the organization. She suffered fools not at all, and everyone respected her. Frankly, most of us wanted to be her friend. She was the friend that would tell you TRUTH and the friend that would have your back. Okay, we wanted her to be our friend. I don’t know that most people knew how to be her friend.
She was the commensurate professional as the new guard took on a leadership role. Others were unsure and insecure. Lynn? She rolled with it. She knew she was good. She ran the member database like a boss, negotiated hotel and AV contracts like a shark and charmed the board like a bartender who makes everyone believe they are friends–but they really aren’t. They have a business relationship.
Over time, Lynn decided that I was okay. That I could be trusted. That she could talk to me. That we could share lunch. And it was one day over lunch she told me that she was relieved that her son could get his non-driver’s ID. He was thirteen.
I was like, “What’s that about? He’s not learning to drive, is he?” I knew her delightfully goofy, barely teen son. What was the point of an officially laminated card for a middle-schooler?
“Oh, Doc,” she said, “My son is only thirteen, but he is already 6’2″, so to the cops he is a black man. I want, that when they roll up to him because someone a few blocks away was robbed or the gas station was burgled or a drug bust went down, he can prove-by showing an official government document–that he is NOT a man. That he is a thirteen year old boy. So they can run his name to see he doesn’t have a record. And for them to know it wasn’t him.”
I am sure I looked at her like a confused puppy. With my head cocked to one side and the opposite brow raised in a question.
“Doc, let me tell you what I told him. If a police car pulls next to you, STOP. Do not move. Always show your hands. Never run. NEVER never run. Do not mouth off. Do not challenge. Keep your eyes down. If they tell you to get on the ground, do it. I’ve got on the floor to show him how. Because they are looking for someone, and it’s easy if it’s my son if he’s in front of them. And they would not hesitate before they shot him.”
I heard her. I didn’t know. My eyes were likely like saucers. I know that my mouth was dry. I had heard love in her voice when she spoke of her son. I had heard pride in her voice when she shared his successes. I had heard joy in her voice when she told of their exploits.
But this day? I felt fear in her voice. And she was never afraid. Of anything. She shared something with me that white people miss. That we are ignorant of. That is foreign to our existence. And I was afraid for her son. She spoke a truth that I didn’t know, but she taught me.
So, White People who don’t know, let me explain white privilege to you.
You who don’t worry about your children having an encounter with the police. You who had the cops call you when your kid got pulled over for drinking because boys will be boys. You whose kids have cursed out cops. You whose kids come home safe after cursing out said cops. You who tell your kids that if they’re in trouble to call the police.
You who haven’t had “that talk.” No, not that one.
The talk where you tell your kid to be polite, to defer, to acquiesce, to say “Sir” and “Ma’am,” to take the insults, to keep their hands out of their pockets, to not run, to swallow their anger at being falsely accused and harassed. Because when they have an encounter with the police they just might end up in the hospital or…or…or….
I can’t bring myself to type the next word. I can’t imagine telling my sons that they have to walk an arbitrary and capricious line, a line that may shift, a line that holds their life in the balance. Because of anything and, in this case, because of their skin color.
That, friends, is white privilege.
I have extra sons. Sons that are brothers with my sons but from different mothers. Sons who have brown skin. I tell these young men–young men who were scouts together, who ate my waffles, who walk my dog when I’m lazy, who call me mom–to put my number in his phone. And always, no matter what, call if he needs me. I hope he never needs me.