A few months ago, I was pulled over by a Springfield, Illinois-area police officer for a minor traffic violation.
He shined a flashlight in my car and said, “Mr. Reeder, are you carrying?”
I replied that no, my firearm was home locked up in a safe.
He replied, “You should always carry. It doesn’t do you any good if it’s home locked up.”
He gave me a verbal warning and sent me on my way.
I couldn’t help but wonder how different that encounter might have been if I were Black.
In 2020, I wrote a piece about Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, who was pulled over not far from his home for having a burned-out headlight. An officer asked him, “Do you have a gun in the car?” He responded he did and showed them his valid concealed carry permit.
But he says he was still hauled into a police station, handcuffed to a table for seven hours and not allowed to call an attorney. They treated him this way despite knowing he was a lawyer and a state legislator.
Nine months later, charges against him were dismissed because it was determined he hadn’t broken any law. But the cops kept his gun.
Tarver is Black. I’m white. He was arrested despite being licensed to carry. I was scolded for not carrying.
That’s the definition of white privilege.
I might add that white privilege isn’t necessarily something someone seeks. And it doesn’t mean you haven’t had struggles in your life. It just means that one of those struggles wasn’t related to the color of your skin.
Sometimes it manifests itself in big ways such as whether one is arrested. But often smaller things are more telling.
Last week, our puppy chewed up my well-worn pair of work boots. I went to my favorite shoe store, a place where I’ve always found the service to be excellent.
There was one other customer there, a Black man with his family. He has a good job as a union drywall installer, and he too, was buying a new pair of boots.
After trying a pair on, I asked if I made the purchase whether they could throw in a free pair of socks. In a rather officious tone – as if he were speaking to an audience, not just me – the manager told me, “We never do that.”
And he pointed at my sales associate and said, “He could be fired if he did that.”
I stepped into the washroom and when I returned the African-American family had left. The associate had my boots boxed up and handed me a free pair of socks. He said, “You’re a good customer – you deserve this.”
My first reaction was, “That’s nice, he changed his mind.”
As I drove home, it dawned on me that whole charade was done so they wouldn’t be obliged to also give a free pair of socks to the Black customer who was spending the same amount as me.
White folks, myself included, can be pretty clueless when it comes to the privileges we are extended.
Several years ago, I was driving just south of a hospital in Springfield when I came across a van that had broken down on a side street. The driver was a young African-American man who had recently graduated from high school. He said he had run out of gas and was worried about being late for his job working in a restaurant.
I had him climb in my truck and I drove him to a gas station several blocks away. I got out of the truck and grabbed a nozzle to fill up my gas can.
The young man said, “You can’t do that. This is my neighborhood station and you have to pre-pay.” But it was the station I stopped at routinely on the way to work, and I had never prepaid.
Sure enough, as soon as I stuck the nozzle in the can, gasoline flowed.
I looked at the young man who was dressed in a nice pair of jeans. I had been doing yard work that day and was wearing a pair of bib overalls. So, it wasn’t how I was dressed that got me treated better.
He drove an old van, but I was driving an old pickup.
Perhaps I was treated better because I have some gray in my hair, but I doubt it.
It would seem my skin color offered me a privilege that’s denied others. That’s just not right but it won’t change until more white people realize that the privileges they receive often are denied others.
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for the Illinois Times, is a veteran journalist who has worked for newspapers in the Midwest, Texas and Nevada. This essay was first published by the Iowa Capital-Dispatch.