“Uh Oh, They’re Following Us” The Fear of Driving While Black in America

Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University


Black History month is a time of the year to uncover and highlight some of the of the history that has been hidden or lost in the annals of time. It is also a time to shed light on some of the racial injustice that has gone on all to long in the US. This Black history month we will offer a series of articles that highlights little known Black history and culture, and at times expose injustice and also offer resources and materials for teachers and for those that want to explore history further. For this first article in the series we will republish an article that sheds some light on a great injustice in our country.

Originally published July 17, 2020 as “Driving While Black: Musings on White Privilege”

A Tale of Two Black Men
As I entered into the used car dealership I was already experiencing fatigue having gone into several other establishments in search of the perfect car for the perfect price. There was one more dealership I wanted to try before I called it a day. I had just gotten off of work and had on business attire. When I walked in I saw friendly faces but was even more pleased when the salesman that was helping me was an African American like myself, probably about ten years my senior. He seemed like a great guy. He seemed genuine. Furthermore, he was quite accomplished, had a great family and was even an ordained minister. He liked sales because he was a people person and liked the daily interactions. We instantly hit it off. He even knew some of the same people that I knew. So this put me at ease.


By Esau McCaulley Covenant Living.Org

It was not long before I selected a car that I liked and he urged me to test drive it. It was a relatively new car, only a few years old. He suggested that we drive to another of their lots in a nearby city about fifteen minutes away to check out their other inventory of cars. I thought this was a great idea. About a third of the way into the trip -while in a residential area, a police officer pulled in behind us and began to follow us. It was not long before he turned on his flashing lights. My new friend and I exchanged glances as we saw the flashing lights behind us. The non-verbals between us went something like “Here we go again” and “I cannot believe this is happening again.” I looked down at my speed-o-meter and I was not speeding. I thought back to the less than fifteen minutes of driving I had done. I had not run any red lights or stop signs and I had used all of my proper signaling. After we pulled over, the officer walked up to the car and was very candid. “The reason I am pulling you over is that this is an area where frequent drug deals take place and you guys fit the description.” So think about this. Two black men in a new car, both dressed in suits and ties, a professor and a clergyman and still all the officer saw was two drug dealers. Well my new friend and I relaxed ourselves (Because this was not our first rodeo) and I spoke to the officer calmly. After he took our licenses and ran our names through the system he let us go.

The Notion of White Privilege is Misunderstood
The reason I wanted to share my story and be so transparent is to help readers understand the euphemism “driving while black.” Yes, white folks get pulled over for unjust causes. And they too are pulled over for arbitrary reasons. But never are they pulled over for the color of their skin. Driving while black also points to the notion of “White privilege.” One privilege White folks have  -of many, is that they do not have to ever worry about getting pulled over or killed by the police in the United States because of the color of their skin.  
     

By UCF Today (University of Florida) 2020

When many people hear the phrase “White privilege” they are immediately offended and say things such as “I have never been privileged” and “I worked for everything I have ever gotten.” Another common phrase is “No one ever handed me anything in life.” But these common phrases in reaction to the notion of White privilege miss the point entirely. White privilege is not about being privileged in the conventional sense. That is, it is not speaking of privilege in the sense of saying all White folks are wealthy and do not have anything to worry about, or that they are born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth. If that is the sense of privilege folks are thinking about, then it is understandable why they would be so upset. To be a human in and of itself is a struggle. But, there seems to be a critical mass of working class whites that are resentful of the notion of privilege because they are viewing it in the traditional sense.

However, when scholars and educators discuss the notion of White privilege they mean certain advantages Whites have in the United States of America by the simple fact that they are White. There was nothing my friend and I could have done to change the outcome of our run-in with the officer. We simply were existing and going about our daily lives and were targeted. White folks have the privilege of not having to go through that because they happen to be of a lighter hue. In this way, privilege has nothing to do with “how hard someone works” or whether or not someone “handed something to them.” We have to own the fact that there are some advantages afforded to folks in the US by virtue of simply having less melanin in their skin. This is based on the historical legacy of slavery, racism and White supremacy in this country. The Teaching Tolerance website describes it in this way, “White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word White creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled.” 

Please share what resources you find useful for your teaching.

We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below:
childsd1@nku.edu


4 Comments

  1. As a white female in America being pulled over by the police or just police officers in general has never been something that I have had to fear. I will never be able to start to understand the fear that African- Americans feel when they see those red and blue lights behind them, worrying about the movements they make and the tone of voice use while speaking to the officer. Although I may never understand what this fear feels like I do know that this fear is felt by many. I know that I have “white privilege” when it comes to scenarios like this one and others. I may not have a lot or have been handed things in life but I also have a sense of security in these situations that African- Americans do not have.

  2. As a woman who is white, I never do have to worry about this happening to me nor does any of my family members. I will never understand the fear of what it is like to be pulled over just because of the color of my skin. It is sad that when you guys got pulled over your thoughts were, “Not this again” or “Here we go again.” Because these happens multiple times and it will not stop. I also liked how you went into detail about white privilege. Many people do look at it as that whites are handed things but, that is not what it means. Thank you for going into detail about it and bringing awareness to it.

  3. As a woman who is white, I never do have to worry about this happening to me nor does any of my family members. I will never understand the fear of what it is like to be pulled over just because of the color of my skin. It is sad that when you guys got pulled over your thoughts were, “Not this again” or “Here we go again.” Because these happens multiple times and it will not stop. I also liked how you went into detail about white privilege. Many people do look at it as that whites are handed things but, that is not what it means. Thank you for going into detail about it and bringing awareness to it.

  4. While being a black male myself I have always feared getting pulled over by the police luckily, I haven’t been. While reading this it just increases my worries about being judged because of my skin I’m not even sure how I would react or act in a situation like this and as I get older, I worry for the future if I have kids and what they will go through. I also really liked how you went into detail about “white privilege” because that is also how I look at it.

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