This article originally appeared at the Deseret News.
I have a lead foot. It’s gotten me into trouble several times and I’ve had my fair share of speeding tickets. I’ve even had friends warn me that neighbors are asking who the owner is of the big red Yukon GMC flying through the neighborhood. I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
One particular time, I was going 10 over on Wasatch Boulevard on Salt Lake City’s east bench. Anyone who’s anyone in Sandy knows you don’t speed on that road. I forgot and went on my merry way, having an engaging conversation with my husband, Alex Boyé, until I saw the gut-punching police lights flashing in my rearview mirror. Alex was in the passenger seat (since he knows how much I love driving), and as the cop approached my window and asked for my license and registration, I felt an immediate shift of energy in the car. My buoyant, fun and energetic husband, who sings and dances and makes people laugh for a living, went completely still and silent. I couldn’t even hear him breathe.
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To be honest, I was almost annoyed that he basically left me to fend for myself (even though the speeding was all my doing) and didn’t once say one single word in my defense to the officer. Silent. Unmoving. Unwilling. Alex uses his hands, he gets loud, his expression is undeniable, but in this circumstance, he may as well have been a statue in a department store — completely expressionless. He seemed to slouch a little, too, leaning back more in the seat, looking down into his lap and not saying a word. He just left me to deal with my own consequences. I didn’t get it. And I was irritated.
I remember another incident when we had just returned from a date and I asked him to take the babysitter home. “Can you do that instead?” he asked me. Again, I was irritated. I had a baby to nurse, a diaper to change and a house to clean up, and now he wanted me to take her home? Thanks for that. I just thought he could help me share the load a little bit that night and was bugged that I had to take the sitter home while he held a screaming baby who was hungry, when we easily could have switched jobs. It would have taken five minutes to take her home. I didn’t get it.
I’ve learned a lot about race, culture and divide by being married to a black man. I’ve learned that when cops are involved, many black people quietly submit, or sink into the passenger seat, rather than plead their cause (or defend their wife’s speeding ticket) because it’s the safer choice. I’ve learned that I will forever be the one to take the sitter home because it’s better to “avoid the appearance of evil.”
I’ve learned that sometimes Alex is late to an appointment in NYC because it takes twice as long for a black man to hail a cab than a white man, unless he’s dressed to the nines and appears to have money. I’ve learned that oftentimes when Alex is being interviewed for radio and says he has seven kids, he also has to explain “from the same mother.” I’ve learned that he puts up with a lot of black jokes from some of the best of friends who feel like they can say it, because they know him (or their brother-in-law is black, so it’s fine), and he can get his feelings hurt.
The truth is, I just didn’t understand. White privilege exists, but I didn’t even know it was a thing. So many times I feel guilty for just being white, because I don’t even know what privileges I’m getting that my black female friend isn’t. Maybe I’m ignorant, but I don’t know what it’s like without the privilege. And I dare say, there are many of us that don’t. Which I guess is the reason I’m writing this.
Some of us white kids just need an explanation. We need to hear the stories — not the ones in the media, though they’re important, but the everyday experiences of black people having to justify themselves when we do not. And maybe in a future day, Alex can take the sitter home without it looking suspicious. Maybe he’ll be able to say he has a ton of kids without the assumption that they’re from different women. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to defend his wife and kids from an unruly neighbor without being afraid he’ll be arrested for it.
In the meantime, I’ll try to avoid building resentment about things I do not and cannot understand, as well as avoiding speeding tickets.