One of the distinctive aspects of racial privilege is that those who have it seem largely unware of it. Trina Grillo and Stephanie Wildman have described this as a form of “racism/white supremacy,” pointing out “the link between discriminatory racism and the privilege held by whites to ignore their own race.” Every now and then, whites are reminded that they have a race, too.
Consider this story from the Albany (New York) Times Union. A 28-year old white woman was pulled over by the police for an alleged traffic violation. The police then searched her car and dialed a stored number on her cellphone. According to the news report, one police officer allegedly searched the woman’s genital area by probing with his hands and he inserted his finger into her vagina. Why? According to the complainant, the police officer allegedly said, “You fit the profile. You’re a white girl in a rental car.”
Why would a police officer probe a woman’s vagina during a routine traffic stop? To humiliate her, to show her who is “boss.” Sex, violence and power are all connected.
Would this story have made the news if it had been a black or Latina woman who had been stopped? I don’t think so. The presumed “news worthiness” of the story, I suspect, derives from two factors. First, a white woman alleges that the police acted inappropriated. The news story includes statements from the victim’s father and mother, almost as if to say to the (presumably white) reader, “This could happen to your child, too. Be outraged.” Second, the police officer’s stated reason for stopping the complainant was her race. The notion that one’s white skin color can make one a police target will be a new concept for many people.