“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.” 

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  1. As I read your story I was shocked. The fact that police driver pulled you over solely because you and your passenger were people of color is astounding. He had no excuse or warrant to do so. This was discrimination and a story I am sure most white people can not relate to. I personally have never feared for my life because of the color of my skin, but instead for my gender. I take precautions when going out at night or alone as a woman. Precautions that people of color can not take. This is a privilege I have. “There is nothing I could of done to change the outcome,” is a perfect way to describe the privilege white people have. No matter their up brining, it is a privilege to not fear for their life in public settings simply because they are white.

  2. I really liked this article and reading this! It really did put into perspective on how blacks do get treated just because the color of their skin. I like how the author talked about how whites gets offended when they hear “white privilege” but they are missing the point of it and aren’t meaning it the way that they are interpreting it. I really liked how this article went into what white privilege actually means. I think it is super sad that blacks can’t go about their day, all because of their skin and this article gave a good example of how blacks are treated and can’t go about their lives sometimes because of who they are.

  3. The idea of white privilege is something of a trigger word for a lot of people that causes them to get very offended. The fact that White people are able to get upset when it is brought up that they may benefit from being white is proof that white privilege exists in the first place. One thing that I particularly liked about this article was how it brought up the point that White people get pulled over unfairly, but it is never for being white. I think that this example underscores the point that needs to be made about white privilege — while unfair things do happen to White people, those things are not happening to them because of their skin color: something that cannot be said for people of Color.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this article. I liked the section where it is stated that white people tend to get offended when the phrase “white privilege” is brought up. Black Americans are targeted for their skin color. Yes, white people get pulled over for unjust cases as well, but not for the color of their skin. The tales told are just some out of tens of thousands of others where people experience unfair treatment just for being a person of color. Most people will hear about these instances happening, but having the story be told really puts it into perspective. These things are really happening, not just on the news. This article is super insightful for people who don’t understand what white privilege is, or or the struggles that Black Americans go through

  5. I really enjoyed this article. I liked how it shows and describes the feelings of many Black people when they are stopped by the police and how the reasons are sometimes unjust and based only on the color of their skin. I really appreciate that the article gave a real example of a time when Black people were profiled because it allows for people to understand how instances like this happen in real life. I also really enjoyed how it described the concept of White privilege and helped me understand it better. This article is really insightful for people who might not understand what White privilege is or the struggles that Black people go through.

  6. I enjoyed reading this article as it shines a light on many subjects people know about but decide not to take in as important. The tale told is just one out of thousands of others where people experience unfair treatment just for being a person of color. I also liked how it highlighted the fact that white people do get pulled over unfairly but never because they are white. The explanation of white privilege was very important as many people tend to give it another meaning. People tend to believe it means something else and get offended but if they were to just understand the meaning they might not get as offended. Being pulled over as a black or brown person is terrifying and that is a feeling white people will never understand to fear an interaction with an officer solely based on their skin color even if innocent.

  7. The article sheds light on the experiences of Black Americans who are targeted for the color of their skin while driving. The author shares statistical evidence and personal anecdotes to illustrate the anxiety and fear that many Black drivers experience due to racial profiling and discrimination by law enforcement. This article highlights the systemic racial bias that exists in law enforcement, where Black Americans are 20% more likely to be pulled over by police than white Americans.
    It’s important to acknowledge that white privilege exists and contributes to the systemic racism that Black Americans face. However, when this privilege is brought up, many white people may get offended or defensive. It’s essential to have honest and open conversations about these issues to create a more equitable and just society for all.

  8. I liked how the story was used to highlight not only the discrimination against skin color but also the concept of white privilege. The concept is often dismissed as being discriminatory or offensive; which I think is the privilege being talked about here because if you think you are being discriminated against if someone points out your privilege, that’s privilege. Additionally, they are the same people who are often caught saying “I don’t get involved in politics too much”, or something of that sort and the reason that is also a privilege is because they have the privilege of not having to think about all the injustice around them as it doesn’t involve them. I’m really glad the article talks about it and makes the concept of white privilege clearer.

  9. The idea of having white privilege can definitely be something that is looked past easily by white people. As a white person, I have never had to think of whether or not a cop encounter could be dangerous or even fatal, nor would the color of my skin even come into account. It is unfortunate to know that stories like this happen more often than they should, which is never. Lastly, it is important for people to know their privilege and understand how it affects them and others.

  10. I like that you brought up how when white people hear the phrase “white privilege,” they get offended. I would have to agree with that. There are many things that white people take advantage as you have shown in the example of a tale of two black men. While many get offended, it is important to highlight that white people can go about their day not having to think about the color of their skin or if they will be targeted that day because of their skin.

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