I don’t think it’s any secret that race relations in the United States are at a pretty low point right now. A Twitter post from a college professor who happens to be black hit home with me. So I’m going to relate his story to my own experience, in hopes this helps other white males like me gain a sense of understanding.
Teenagers and authority figures
The professor told stories about being a teenager. His stories felt eerily familiar to me. Well, with one difference. More on that difference in a minute.
His story started with stories about being 16 and having a car. He told a story of being followed home by a police officer. Noticing the officer following closely, he drove carefully, paying extra careful attention to everything, including signalling and the speed limit, but the cop stayed on him, relentlessly. He pulled onto his street, a cul de sac, and pulled into his driveway. On went the lights. He got pulled over in his own driveway, for not signalling before turning into the driveway. On a cul de sac.
Another time, he was driving to school. He had a friend in his passenger seat. It was 7:30 in the morning and they had their backpacks. A police officer pulled him over and interrogated him. What was he doing? Where was he going? Shouldn’t it be obvious? He and his friend had their backpacks and it was 7:30 in the morning. Where else were they going?
These stories are relatable. As a white male growing up in the suburbs, I had similar experiences. Cops were bound and determined to teach me a lesson. I didn’t especially need to be taught a lesson. I maintained a GPA over 3.5 in high school, was in the National Honors Society, held down the same job for two and a half years, and snagged a merit-based college scholarship. But because I was a teenager and looked it, cops made assumptions about me and took any opportunity they could to pull me over and teach me a lesson. They’d pull me over, yell at me, then run my license and plates and see I had no record, then let me go with a warning. It was a waste of their time and mine.
There was one difference between the professor’s experience and mine though. In my case, the guns stayed in the holster. In his case, he was answering questions at gunpoint.
Other notable differences between the professor and me
So far, the professor’s stories are similar to mine, but they diverged quite a bit once we reached adulthood. I can tell you the story of each time I’ve been pulled over, but they’re all pretty much alike. I committed a minor infraction, in one case provoked by the cop himself, and in each case I got a warning. Only once was it a written warning, and that one was for driving about five miles an hour over the speed limit.
And it all magically stopped after age 30. Now, I don’t know what the magic age is, and I’m prematurely gray so at 30 I probably looked more like 35. But minor infractions that used to get me pulled over don’t anymore.
Being a white male over the age of 35, as long as I didn’t hurt anyone, I get the benefit of the doubt. That’s probably how it should be.
But that hasn’t been the professor’s experience. He still gets pulled over for stupid stuff. In one case his car got stuck in a snowstorm, and a cop got out of the car and berated him. He hadn’t been reckless, his car just got stuck. It happens in Chicago. The cop’s partner had to get out of the car and intervene.
The rules aren’t enforced equally. If you fit certain demographics, the rules are enforced much more strictly, to teach you a lesson. And if you’re a black male of any age, the rules are enforced more strictly than even for white teenagers.
If people are protesting near you, that probably has something to do with it.
I am not an expert
Note that I don’t pretend to fully understand what it means to be a black male in America. I can relate to it now that I understand it’s kind of like being a teenager forever. Emphasis on kind of. The problem is, self consciousness makes you more likely to make a mistake, and the rules aren’t enforced equally. I once had a coworker who was an extreme libertarian, and he flat out said, on multiple occasions, that he had no reason to follow stupid laws.
What I do understand is that white males over 30 can get away with that attitude with little to no consequence. I don’t know what Philando Castille did that got him pulled over, but I’m reasonably confident I wouldn’t have been pulled over for the same thing. Castille was pulled over 49 times in 13 years for minor traffic violations. I was pulled over five times between the ages of 16 and 29.
I’m even more confident that, as a white male, if I were pulled over and disclosed I had a loaded gun in my car, I wouldn’t have taken five rounds to the chest.
And before you say the problem is blacks protesting violently, let me tell you a story. Last weekend, there was a protest in a St. Louis suburb near me. Every person arrested for being violent was from 30 miles away. And white.
As white males, our job right now is to understand as best we can and do what we can, even if it’s little things, to make the problem less bad. Not to change the subject. Especially when the thing that bothers us might not actually be happening.