The Limits Of White Privilege In The World

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not necessarily apply to all.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not necessarily apply to all.

I am a white woman. In addition to that, I am a more-or-less conventionally attractive, thin, educated white woman. I don’t come from money, but that does little to thwart my overall privilege.

I also have one of those faces that people perceive as friendly. If there are several open seats on public transit, people are likely to choose the one next to me. I get asked for directions frequently.

I’ve made a good side hustle for myself on that fact. Sometimes, I get paid to smile and chat with strangers for this or that company at conventions and trade shows. I’m also really adept at taking in information and being able to spit it back out, but I typically am hired for my looks.

I also have white privilege. You know how I know I know? Because people often assume the best about me on appearance alone. If I am conservatively well dressed that day, it’s especially favorable. A huge percentage of that favor is due to white supremacy.

I am also married to a black man. Often, when this information is revealed to a new acquaintance it is met with surprise.

In my stand-up, I do a joke about it. “But you don’t even wear big earrings!” is how I describe the reaction on stage. But really, what people are saying is that I don’t fit their stereotype of the kind of white girl who ends up with a black man. I don’t read as trashy or whatever it is they’ve swallowed up from the supremacy about girls who date outside of their race. I never really care about the specifics. What those thoughts really say about them is that it is a given that a white woman being with someone who isn’t white is wrong in some sense. It’s bad and undesirable. And what does that say about their assumptions about black people?

He Is Black But ….

Often the kinder racists will try to make excuses for me. I chatted with one older lady when I was working one promotion, who asked all sorts of adorable prying questions about my husband and whether or not he was handsome and when were we going to have kids. Classic old lady stuff.

When she asked to see a photo, however, her face changed. She started stuttering and explaining;

“Well you said he went to a private school, right? So he’s a good boy.”

I didn’t like the way “boy” came out of her mouth, but I didn’t say anything because this wasn’t a Facebook thread it was real life and technically, I was on the clock. (Capitalism.)

This shit is casual and ubiquitous.

The Stop

You know how I know racism is bad? Because even my white privilege can’t overcome it. I can’t, simply by virtue of my being white stop racism from happening in front of me, especially in the mutated power form of a police officer. If racism were a Pokemon, old ladies being uncomfortable with interracial marriage is Charmandar and police racism is Charizard.

Two Christmases ago, I was living in New York with my husband and my younger sister had been staying with us. We packed up the car to head back to Baltimore, where we’re from. Our dog, Miss Toni was also with us.

In typical holiday fashion, there was a lot of traffic even though we left early. Shortly after we crossed into New Jersey, we were pulled over. We were so confused because there was no way we had been speeding, there wasn’t enough room to speed up between cars because of the traffic.

The officer approached the car and was pretty hostile from the start. He banged on our window with his flashlight aggressively, and then flashed it into our faces. Miss Toni was too scared to growl.

He didn’t say what we had done. We were very “yes sir, no sir” as we had all been taught. (I may be white but I was taught to fear the police and never antagonize them.) We gave him all the appropriate paperwork. He asked us where we were going and why, and if we had anything in the car. He then demanded my husband exit the car for no reason. He asked if my sister and I were “ok,” and then seeing my sisters bare feet made her show him her shoes.

He had two trainees with him. The cop was white, one of his trainees was white and one was a black woman. He spent a few moments talking to him outside of the car, then walked him about 10 feet away to the guardrail.

So there they are, the cop and his trainees and my husband on a guardrail on the side of the busy New Jersey parkway. He pats my husband down and sits him on the guardrail.

Meanwhile my sister and I are more or less confused because it didn’t make sense that we were pulled over.

“Fucking cops,” we said to ourselves as shook our heads, I may have even started playing Candy Crush again for a moment, but soon the minutes seemed to drag on and they still had my husband and we were still stopped.

Suddenly, the cop approaches the car, leaving my husband on the side of the highway. He demands to see our IDs. He steps away for a moment to run them.

My phone is in my hand, I’m considering recording the interaction.

I had filmed a few stop and frisks before in the subways. In fact, one night a friend and I playfully vandalized advertisements in subway stations. I had spray adhesive and magazine cut outs, mostly from old New Yorker mags from the 90’s. A cop literally walked by the two of us pasting and painting on an ad, shook his head and just said “Really??” Later that same night we saw a Latino man get stop and frisked for seemingly no reason. He seemed like he was going to or from work.

So I was just holding my phone when the officer approached. He hands back our IDs.

“You’re not filming me right? You’re not allowed to film me!”

I knew full well I was allowed to film him.

I said, “no I’m not filming you but there wouldn’t be anything wrong if I was. I know we are allowed to film”

He said, “How do you know that? Get pulled over a lot?” And leaned into the car.

I just said, “No.” I looked over at my husband, totally vulnerable, literally out in the cold on the guardrail and I didn’t, couldn’t say anything else.

There was no card I could pull in order to gain control of the situation, and there is no automatic solidarity among whites who do not ascribe to white supremacy and white authority. It’s probably the only reason I was still in the car and not on another section of guardrail myself.

They kept my husband out there for almost a full hour before letting us go with the amorphous “reckless driving” ticket. I was just relieved he was relatively unharmed. He told me the officer didn’t believe the two of us were married, that he kept asking the same questions over and over again. He looked so exhausted.

Before some of you move right past empathy and right into telling me what official complaint procedure we could have employed after this incident to obtain some justice, please consider the true cost-benefit analysis. We had already spend a significant portion of our time dealing with this incident, both on the road and later sharing the story over and over with our families until finally my husband couldn’t take one more retelling.

Fighting both the ticket and complaining about the officer would require even more time and expense. In order to get to the courthouse in New Jersey, my husband and I both would have to take off work, take 2 trains and a bus into New Jersey, and then walk at least a mile in early February weather. By the time the court date drew near, it just seemed better to pay the ticket online and just chalk the shit up to how fucked up the world is.

White Supremacy

That’s the thing so many of my fellow whites do not get. They perceive the world to be fundamentally fair, and the just world fallacy is something all humans are susceptible to, but white people most of all. There’s so much external data validating the value of white lives and opinions, that undiscerning minds can use as evidence the world is just, and those who are without money or justice or peace simply need to try a bit harder to obtain these things. That white people simply have just tried the hardest.

It’s a laughable idea in my mind to anyone with a passing understanding of the history of white supremacy and the history of the world on the whole. But like I said, undiscerning minds don’t understand the false dichotomy they’re projecting onto each and every case where there seems to be racism.

The Tweet

A year ago I made a cynical remark on my social media regarding the George Zimmerman trial. I joked something along the lines that I would be angry if he was acquitted but I didn’t want to travel to break things, so would we be doing satellite rioting? I thought it was funny, it properly expressed my disdain for that shit show of a trial, set against my laziness and the fear of rioting.

Now I went to the University of Maryland at College Park in the early 00’s. When I think “riot,” the first thing that comes to mind is frat boys burning their own couches in the center of Frat Row because we won. Or we lost. Whichever.

Now I wasn’t that popular on Twitter (@bunifah), but the day after I made the comment I was inundated in my mentions with all kinds of white rage. It was perplexing to me, were these people just scouring all of Twitter and trolling anyone who thought Zimmerman was guilty?

I discovered I had been placed on various extreme-Right websites as one of many who were agitating for an all out race riot. Everyone angrily shame-tweeting at me was white, tsk-tsking my “call to violence.”

You now how I know white supremacy is the problem? Because the most frequent tweet I received admonishing my views on the Zimmerman case was:

“Aren’t you white?”

“No, You’re The Racist”

You know who really wants a race riot war? White supremacists and people too stupid to realize they’re being white supremacists. They’d love a legitimate reason to draw lines according to race, only this time where they’re the heroes defending themselves not the villainous oppressors history has shown them to be.

That’s why there’s so much nonsense about “reverse-racism” and nonwhites being “the real racists” because white people see nonwhite victimhood as a currency, and of course they want and think they deserve a piece. Racism isn’t cool anymore, so they must make it so the nonwhite people are the racists. Problem solved.

Even the KKK knows they were in need of rebranding, which is why they’re now allowing Jewish people and gays into their ranks. Anyone can be a white supremacist now!
But the Klan has a long history of doing such, remember when they wouldn’t even let Catholics in?

Deep down, they know whiteness is meaningless without racism. For those whom white supremacy is an ideology they cling to in order to give their life some intrinsic value, racism can never be abolished. It is the only thing that truly ties the ever-evolving amorphous group “white people” together.

Full disclosure: as my father sees it I am only half-white, as Greeks weren’t always considered white and there hasn’t been a plane trip he’s taken since 9/11 where he hasn’t been “randomly” searched. So I’ve never cherished the identity, personally. Maybe I can’t properly sympathize with those of you that do.

But for the sake of all that is good, those of you that do hold your whiteness dear and let it prevent you from listening and believing nonwhite people about how differently they experience life at a time like this, I implore you: get over yourself. Lives are at stake.



Bunny Themelis

Bunny Themelis is a Canadian-born, Baltimore-raised comedian, actress and writer. Her favorite topics include being Greek, pop culture and nerdy history facts. She lives in Baltimore with her hubby and dogs, Miss Toni and Zeus.

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