June 26, 2022

Opinion

Scott Reeder: Subtle, and not so subtle, examples of white privilege

A few months ago, I was pulled over by a Springfield-area police officer for a minor traffic violation.

He shined a flashlight in my car and said, “Mr. Reeder, are you carrying?”

I replied that “no,” my firearm was home locked in a safe. (Officers are alerted when you have a concealed carry license, as I do.)

He replied, “You should always carry. It doesn’t do you any good if it’s home locked up.”

He gave me a verbal warning for the traffic violation and sent me on my way.

I couldn’t help but wonder how different that encounter might have been if I were Black.

In 2020, I wrote a piece about state Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, who was pulled over not far from his home for having a burned-out headlight. An officer asked him, “Do you have a gun in the car?” He responded he did and presented his valid conceal carry permit.

But he says he was still hauled into a police station, handcuffed to a table for seven hours and not allowed to call an attorney. They treated him this way despite knowing he was a lawyer and a state lawmaker.

Nine months later, charges against him were dismissed because it was determined he hadn’t broken any law. But the cops kept his gun.

Tarver is Black. I’m white. He was arrested despite being licensed to carry. I was scolded for not carrying.

That’s the definition of white privilege.

I might add that white privilege isn’t necessarily something someone seeks. And it doesn’t mean you haven’t had struggles in your life. It just means that one of those struggles wasn’t related to the color of your skin.

Sometimes it manifests itself in big ways such as whether one is arrested. But often smaller things are more telling.

Last week, our puppy chewed up my well-worn pair of workboots. I went to my favorite shoestore, a place where I’ve always found the service to be excellent.

There was one other customer there, a Black man with his family. He has a good job as a union drywall installer, and he, too, was buying a new pair of boots.

After trying a pair on, I asked if I made the purchase whether they could throw in a free pair of socks. In a rather officious tone – as if he were speaking to an audience, not just me – the manager told me, “We never do that.”

And he pointed at my sales associate and said, “He could be fired if he did that.”

I stepped into the washroom and when I returned the Black family had left. The associate had my boots boxed up and handed me a free pair of socks. He said, “You’re a good customer – you deserve this.”

My first reaction was, “That’s nice, he changed his mind.”

As I drove home, it dawned on me that whole charade was done so they wouldn’t be obliged to also give a free pair of socks to the Black customer who was spending the same amount as me.

White folks, myself included, can be pretty clueless when it comes to the privileges we are extended.

Several years ago, I was driving just south of Springfield Memorial Hospital when I came across a van that had broken down on a side street.

The driver was a young Black man who had recently graduated from high school. He said he had run out of gas and was worried about being late for his job working in a restaurant.

I had him climb in my truck and I drove him to a gas station several blocks away. I got out of the truck and grabbed a nozzle to fill up my gas can.

The young man said, “You can’t do that. This is my neighborhood station and you have to prepay.” But it was the station I stopped at routinely on the way to work, and I had never prepaid.

Sure enough, as soon as I stuck the nozzle in the can, gasoline flowed.

I looked at the young man who was dressed in a nice pair of jeans. I had been doing yardwork that day and was wearing a pair of bib overalls. So, it wasn’t how I was dressed that got me treated better.

He drove an old van, but I was driving an old pickup.

Perhaps I was treated better because I have some gray in my hair, but I doubt it.

It would seem my skin color offered me a privilege that’s denied others. That’s just not right, but it won’t change until more white people realize that the privileges they receive often are denied others.

Scott Reeder a staff writer for Illinois Times can be reached at: sreeder@Illinoistimes.com.


Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at: sreeder@illinoistimes.com.