What does it mean to be ‘privileged’?
Given the recent conversations over race and discrimination, I thought that this—from earlier this year—was worth republishing.
Earlier this week, I sold my old TV to a friend. But late last night was the only time I had to take it to her house. Since the TV is light, and she lives in the neighborhood—and D.C. neighborhoods are fairly small—I figured I would walk it over, instead of driving.
As I was getting ready to go, it occurred to me that this would be a terrible idea. Not because I would have been carrying a TV at 10pm down a quiet city street—I actually feel pretty safe doing that. But because I would have been a black dude—in a hoodie, no less!—carrying a nice-looking TV down a quiet city street at 10pm.
More to the point, it’s a street well-patrolled by police officers and I didn’t want to play with the odds of being stopped on the street, thus having to explain where I got the TV from. After all, there was no way for me to quickly prove that the TV (formerly) belonged to me. It’s not as if I had a bill of sale, and telling a cop that it’s “for a friend” is a sure way of spending the next few hours in a holding cell.
Which, you know, I don’t want to do. At all.
In the end, I did what any reasonable person would do: I called my friend, who is white, and asked her if she could come by and then we would walk the TV back to her house together. With a white person at my side, I figured I could avoid trouble.
Now, none of this is to say that the cops wouldn’t have stopped a lone white guy doing the same thing. But that’s not issue. The question is whether a white guy would have even thought about the police as a possible obstacle to completing this transaction?
If we’re being honest, the answer is “Probably not.”
I have no idea what would have happened if I decided to walk a nice TV three blocks down the street. It’s entirely possible that the police would have left me alone. But I couldn’t count on that. Calling my friend, and making a different arrangement, was the only prudent thing to do.
What does it mean to be privileged? It means not having to think about any of this, ever.