The Unbearable Lightness of Being White

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Posted September 3, 2014 by KEN WHEATCROFT-PARDUE in News
Static

Once in the late 1970s, I was returning home on foot from a night of as much debauchery as I, a poor college student, could then afford, when I was stopped — it was about 8 a.m. — by a representative of the law. He waved me over to his patrol car to ask me for directions to Grand Avenue.

A very strange question, for, you see, Grand Avenue is a main street in Sherman, Texas. My college and the house from whence I came were on it, and as far as I knew it hadn’t gone anywhere. I’d last seen it only a few minutes before.

But thinking it always best to cooperate with the law, I gave the officer the directions he asked for. He thanked me and went on his way. I thought it peculiar, since the law usually knows the main drags, but being in a good mood, I didn’t dwell on it. Hindsight being 20-20, I probably should’ve.

A few minutes later, I was on my front porch when two Sherman police cars and two Grayson County sheriff cars converged in front of my house with their tires squealing and rear ends fishtailing, just like on TV. My life flashed before my eyes as about a half-dozen law enforcement professionals leapt out of their vehicles and began a mad dash with their pistols drawn straight toward yours truly.

To get the proper picture, understand that, back then, I was about 150 pounds sopping wet with long hair and a scraggly beard. The law-enforcement professionals were clean-cut, stout, meat-eating types, and they were speeding up my sidewalk, coming for me as if I were the most vicious desperado this side of Clyde Barrow.

Being young and dumb, if that’s not redundant, I stood there and shouted, “What the hell is going on?”

I was informed that I was suspected of being a con who just that day had had the temerity to escape from the Grayson County Jail. Again, being less brave than foolish, I told them that was the biggest piece of horse manure I’d ever heard, and moreover, I could prove it. So I stomped back to my bedroom to return with a pile of photo IDs that stopped those lawmen in their tracks.

After that, the representatives of the law turned a mite sheepish, though they still insisted that I was a dead ringer for that dirty, rotten S.O.B. who’d escaped. Then they left in as much of a hurry as they’d come.

Today, many question the very idea that white privilege exists, insisting that racism ended on some vague, never-named date in the past, and any more talk is just “playing the race card.” But given the African-American men killed lately by law enforcement — Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri, to name only two — I offer this true story of a young white man’s encounter with the law to show that just maybe there’s something to the idea of white privilege.

If I’d been a young African-American man, would I have been allowed to smart off the way I did? Would they have let me, without permission, turn around, re-enter my house, and go to my bedroom to get my ID? Possibly. More likely, I would’ve ended up with more holes in my body than a slice of Swiss cheese.

That same day, the law recaptured my doppel-gänger. But to add insult to injury, when I spotted his photo on the front page of The Sherman Democrat the next day, I saw that the desperado I’d been mistaken for was one ugly dude — skinny with a scraggly beard and a kind of dumb, blank look on his face. I for one saw no resemblance.

Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue, an essayist, poet, and short story writer from Fort Worth, can be reached at kwheatcroftpardue@yahoo.com.


12 Comments


  1.  
    honest

    In too many situations it’s not really safe to be black in America these days. And white ignorance of this fact has become insufferable. Thanks for this observation.




  2.  
    M.

    To be completely honest about it, everybody I know is just simply sick and tired of hearing about racism in the USA. It’s probably because everybody I know is old enough to know that shouting Racism and Discrimination is a business. It has become a bonafide, and very lucrative, career field.

    Years ago, people like Ralph Abernathy – Jeremiah Wright – Jesse Jackson – and Oprah Winfrey realized there was a fortune to be made by calling people racists. They have played every black in the country for a fool; and they laugh all the way to the bank every payday.

    Anyone who really wanted to solve the race problem in America, would simply figure out a way to take the money out of it! Fix it where nobody can get rich off of it, and racism will go away all on its own in short order.




    •  

      You may have some valid points. See Norman Finkelstein” the holocaust industry.

      You say, “Anyone who really wanted to solve the race problem in America, would simply figure out a way to take the money out of it! ”

      Same thing with most crime. Take the money out of law enforcement (like the CCPD) and crime will go down.




  3.  
    stoutimore

    This is Liberal logic at its finest. Start with circular reasoning. The writer begins with the premise that cops give preferential treatment to white suspects. Then he concludes that the premise is true based on one incident from the 70′s which he imagines would have gone differently if he had been black. Jeez. He could as easily imagine that if he had been black, he would have been prince of Ethiopia.

    Then there’s his straw man arguments. The writer says those who challenge the existence of “white privilege” say racism has ended, but their contention is weakened by the inability to specify the date that it ended. Sorry, I don’t know anyone who contends that all racism has ended, but even if such claim were made, the failure to specify the date it ended would not disprove its demise. You could reverse the argument by saying that global warming doesn’t exist because its proponents cannot say the precise date that it began.




  4.  
    honest

    M.:

    What alternate reality do you inhabit? Nobody makes as much money off racism or race-baiting than conservative groups/efforts/enterprises. And tea-baggers, neocons and republicans in general would not be teasing or playing the race card if it didn’t fill their coffers. Racism doesn’t just still exist. It is thriving. If you were black for a day you would have a different opinion. If you were black for a week, you’d be ashamed of yourself. Surely you are not as obtuse as your post.

    stout:

    your philosophy 101 approach is hardly instructive. Wheatcrodt-Pardue’s point is germane to the discussion. Black people and white people don’t get pulled over the same way. Black people and white people don’t get accosted or arrested the same way (or with the same frequency) by law enforcement personnel. and the civil or uncivil disobedience of black people and white people is not dealt with by law enforcement personnel the same way. It’s indisputable and it’s wrong. Wheatcrodt-Pardue simply references this wrong and the remembrance that brought him a moment of empathy or understanding. you may be impressing your fellow philosophy 101 classmates, but, beyond that, you basically shill for the unfairness of it all.




    •  
      Lendorin

      I completely agree blacks are treated differently in many cases.
      However I grew up in the seventies and eighties in a conservative city and was hassled, searched, and profiled on many occasions because I had long hair and let my freak flag fly….. just saying the world is NOT black and white it is VERY grey with so many different factors OTHER than race. This is probably why the honest discussion about is so hard because white children without MONEY are way more likely to do time than those with money. The lists of grey are staggering if you only take the time to look into it. Just saying more blacks are arrested in a given town, and omitting the fact that the town is 80% black does not help and gives skepticism to those who may not have witnessed the disparagement personally.




      •  
        honest

        That is an important point Lendorin. The poor always have it worse. But the poor black have it worse than the poor white. It’s just the way it is. and not talking about it doesn’t make it go away.

        These days poor and middle class whites have more in common with poor and middle class blacks than the rich–you’d think we could get together on things and address our common inequities.




  5.  
    Stoutimore

    Honest, you are a piece of work. You say conservatives, more than liberals, exploit racism and race-baiting for financial gain. My view–correct me if I’m wrong–is that conservatives tend to downplay racism as a major factor in American life whereas liberals tend to insist that it is. You, in fact, say racism “is thriving”. Why would the side that says racism doesn’t much exist be more implicated in playing the race card?

    Another problem: You say we need to have honest discussions about race and racism, but you seem to dismiss opinions of whites who disagree with you, merely because they’re white. When you told M that s/he would have a different opinion on the existence of racism if s/he were black for a week, it was race-baiting as equally as if I were to say that if M were black for a week s/he would be drawing food stamps.




    •  
      Benny

      Stoutimore, what are you smoking? Baggers, many household variety Repugs, and several additional forms of low-class half-wits delight in degrading anyone or anything that doesn’t accept their childish view of who is entitled to riches. The knuckle-heads that insist racism doesn’t much exist needs to take something for it. Understand, I don’t suggest two bullets into the head of a kid, delivered by one of your tribe, expected and sworn to protect and serve his community, that our world watched this week. Everyone, everwhere, is watching you self-satisfied, entitled, hammer-headed heros. Personally, I don’t expect shock-treatment would fix your depth of denial. You’re eat up with denial. I’ve got you on my prayer list.




  6.  
    S Wayne

    This article serves no purpose, specifically none toward race. What could something that happened 40 years ago to someone white or black have to do with the mindset of our current law enforcement. I am more afraid of the police now then I was in the 70′s. They didn’t have armored personal carriers and rocket launchers in the 70′s. In my honest opinion they also did not have closed minded military want-a be’s as officers.




  7.  
    Open Minded Liberal

    That is sure one weird looking woman in the picture… o.o




  8.  
    Joe

    The really big differences here are twofold: 1. It was the late 70s and police hadn’t become paramilitary units yet, and 2. Sherman-Denison, in those days, were still small towns. Not to say racism wasn’t happening then but those are two important distinctions from today.





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