An Accident of Privilege

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My son was in a car accident. Aside from being shook up, he’s fine, it wasn’t his fault. It is an odd and helpless thing to wait in the line of traffic caused by your own child’s accident. The only thing you know or can see is the family vehicle sideways in the intersection surrounded by emergency vehicles and personnel. Blinding lights spinning, alerting, drawing attention and concern.

Once I managed to find a close parking space, I stood on the southeast corner of the intersection as instructed by the authorities. While the police officers conducted their investigation with my sixteen-year-old, his texts came: “Are you here?” “I don’t know what to do.”  Before talking with Brooks, I was asked if I wanted to have an ambulance at the scene. He was not to be released without my permission. I stated that I would take him to get medical attention if he needed to go, but if it didn’t seem an emergency, I trusted them.

The helpers were wonderful. The helpers provided instruction and direction, from the fire-persons to the police officer, the tow truck driver to the insurance company. Each next step accompanied by a smiling face and watchful eye and kind words and appropriate clucks of concern.

Yet, I wonder, the woman at fault, the driver with no insurance. Was she treated with the same consideration, the same dignity? Were the emergency personnel as concerned for her well-being as for my son’s? I hope so, I have no reason to believe she wasn’t.

Our privilege came in handy today. The pale of our skin, the smiles on our faces, the shaking of hands and gratitude. We have room, we have margins, we have insurance and extra vehicles.  We have options, while a fender bender is an inconvenience, we will not be ruined financially. We have a policy with provisions for uninsured motorists. We have resources. We have hope. We have privilege.

What if Brooks was not a white young man with means, what if, instead, he was a Latino or Black young man, a Muslim? What if he didn’t have a stay-at-home parent with a vehicle to hop into at a moment’s notice to retrieve him and provide comfort, to talk with the police?

I don’t know. But what I do know, our privilege helped. I was present within minutes. Proof of registration and insurance in the glovebox. A nice, large vehicle providing cushion for the blow, with airbags and sensors and leather seats. Our privilege was valuable, indispensable. I am grateful my child is safe and we were treated with respect.

This privilege card, I carry, can be played at the right time. When the stakes are high and we are backed against a wall, I hold the power to play the white card, to play the wealthy card, to play the good citizen card. In the way our nation is set up, our systems revolve around my family’s color, white.

For each white male, young or old, are dozens of black and brown males without the same protections. I cannot speak for my city, but countless stories play across my Twitter feed of another man of color, boy of color without the same protections of privilege, their skin shade an automatic sentence of guilt.

My privilege, our experience today plants seeds of tension in me, an uncomfortable and tenuous tension that begs me to take a firm and severe consideration of truth. The truth is, I can sleep at night because my boys are white. I can sleep at night because my boys have resources. I can sleep at night because my boys will be given the benefit of the doubt and will have a fair shake at justice. I recognize my fortune for having white children, for being a white family with means, with resources, with ties and privilege.

I want to carry this privilege well, wielding it with care and deep humility, recognizing the benefits. I must stare the privilege down, while educating my children, through discussion and awareness. I carry the tension tight, each fists bearing the weight of the questions and unspoken answers, the nuance and truth staring back ugly, with vicious humility. I believe, somehow, in our ability to recognize our preferential treatment, we are at the heart of dismantling the unequal and punitive systems. When I am aware of my privilege, I can be more aware of another’s lack.

My privilege, my boy, will always have justice on his side. He will always hold the assumption of innocence. He owns the ability to move about this earth with confidence and freedom from fear, as a white, cisgender, heterosexual male.

I pray, I hope, as his mother, I can impress upon him the gift, the responsibility this is, for I will never understand.