Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My whiteness

My rant here is nothing you probably don't already know, but if you don't know, think about it.  

Hopefully we've all heard the statistics of the higher rate we incarcarete people of color, over white folks. We've all seen a documentary, read an article, something that explains it. Whether you believe it or not is up to you. 

Lately I've been thinking about those four times I was pulled over while wasted, and never getting a DUI.  Two of those four times, I was out of the car, doing field sobriety tests.  Touching my nose, following the lights, and whatever else they asked me to do.  

I was drunk, all four times, and I know two times I had cocaine in my pocket.  

When asked, "Have you been drinking tonight?"  My answer was always a solid, "Not at all."  I was pulled over for driving without my lights and/or swerving, or because they told me I smelled like booze, so they did the field sobriety tests on me anyway.  

Why didn't I get breathalyzed and why wasn't I arrested?  For a long time I had believed it was because I am the best drunk field-sobriety tester in the land. I knew how to beat them. I could have taught a class!

Then I figured it was because of my beauty. 

Since working in the drug and alcohol counseling field, in a facility that deals with all cultures, I can say for a fact it was because I'm white....and maybe super good looking. Both privileges that kept me out of real trouble.   Now, I know other white folks, good looking or not, haven't been so lucky and have gotten DUI's.  

But, if I had been a brown woman, you bet I would have been arrested, and sent to jail. 100%. And if you don't believe me, get your license and come on down and do assessments on people of color.  Hear their stories, and understand the HUGE difference in the way folks like me, are treated. It makes me cringe to hear the day after day stories. I often want to ask,  "Well, did you tell them to go fuck themselves?" Of course, that isn't the answer. 

Another thing I think about. While I was using meth,  mostly coming down, I used to scream and swear bloody murder at my family.  I even had a neighbor express his concern to my father-in-law (who lives on my street).  But no one ever called the police.  I can understand that it is probably uncomfortable to call the police on people you have been talking about gardening with for some years, when suddenly things change in their house.  And I can't say for sure if our family was brown, the cops would have been called.  But I bet they would have been.  Nothing against this particular neighbor, but if he didn't call, someone else probably would have. 

And someone probably should have. 

I am so grateful for recovery.

The stories I hear every single day, about the ticketing of homeless people for loitering.  Tickets they have to pay or they get arrested. People getting pulled over or stopped just walking down the street for no reason. Having some weed or something in their pocket, catching a 5th degree possession charge. And god forbid you are an addict, of course you are going to have weed or something in your pocket.  Being put on probation for that, and any mistake or ticket or anything, lands you in jail.  So you get more and more possession charges.  You do jail time for this, instead of treatment.  Your house gets raided.  Your dog gets shot.  You get harassed by the police. They roughly put you in the back of the squad.   And worse. 

Your kids get taken away.  Your license gets taken away.  You get a felony so you can't get a job.  You can't get an apartment.  You can't do ANYTHING but be on public assistance. If you don't lose that because of your addiction.  Not to mention, the regular shame that comes with that. The loss of pride, hope, and the feeling of safety. All because of color. 

I still don't have a good understanding of the way the laws work and what the punishments are.  It is a lot to learn.

I had to read this for my last practicum. I got it from iTunes to listen in the car, which started on Chapter Four, so that part sucked. I suggest you read the entire book.

I just want to attest to the fact that in my short time in the field, the pages of that book are absolutely true. It really happens. It IS happening. I see it. I've read about it and believed it happened, But NOW I see it in action. And I can't believe the pain it causes other humans, just because of color. It is a complete failure of our system.

I see folks trying to do the right thing, and they have so many more hurdles than you can imagine.  So many reasons to give up. I had EVERYTHING handed to me when I sobered up. I didn't have to find housing. I didn't have to get my kids back. I got to go to school. Save my house. I had so many people reach out and help me. (Thank you). I had my own hurdles and paid some here and there. Recovery can be hard at times. Stress can trigger relapse.  I have had nothing like what I have seen. 

Do you know that each application for a Section 8 house or apartment is a non-refundable $60?  That is a shit-ton of money for people who are broke. And the vouchers can take up to TWO YEARS to get. Can't get your kids back unless you have a stable home.  Until I started working in this field, I did not know this.  When I got sober, I was starting the Section 8 paperwork when my dad saved my house.  Where would we have gone while waiting for housing?  There is a very good chance I would have given up, and just got high.  Because, what the fuck.  

It is hard for an addict to do the right thing when the outside forces are in our favor.  It is harder when the outside forces work against us.  

Am I supposed to feel bad because I'm white?  No fucking way. But I understand that there is a lot of shit that comes with it which isn't exactly fair. I can't fix it alone. I can acknowledge it, and not contribute to it. Any chance I can help, I will. Maybe someday we can change it if we are more aware how our country still uses people.   

So yeah, I could have gotten "on paper" and under the radar of the county, state or federal authorities when I got pulled over those times.  Probation, random drug tests, maybe child protection, and a lot of hurdles and hoops to jump through. But I didn't.  And that is privilege. 


  1. WOW you have a way with words. And I know exactly what you are talking about when it comes to brown versus white. My daughter Peggy who is licensed social worker who worked a variety of jobs since her bachelors. She worked for a non profit down by Regions call People Incorporated. She went into homes did assesments,worked with the homeless community people of color. People like you Besey and my daughter Peggy are some awesome women. I feel blessed to call you my friend. xx Shannon

  2. I never thought it was fair for *anyone* with an addiction to be jailed, unless they committed a secondary crime (murder, assault, burglary), and if the secondary crime was non - violent, they should be sent to a community based treatment to assist with skills and therapy to help cope when on their own. (Community based treatment is More effective, according to research)

    1. I agree. It isn't fair for anyone. It is not a system to help people up.

  3. You make me think about things I've never thought about before and I want to thank you for that. I do believe everyone we meet is struggling in some way so we just need to kind.

  4. People of color are prosecuted at a higher incidence than whites. However they are not prosecuted because they are of color. They are prosecuted because they were apprehended committing a crime. To feel sorry for criminals, addicts or anyone really, does not help them stay well. And this seems to imply legal intervention is a bad thing? Maybe had you been arrested you would have sought help sooner? Experiencing the dire consequences of our poor choices allows us to fathom the seriousness of our condition, thereby extending us the gracious opportunity to embrace change.

    1. My point is that I committed the same crimes, but wasn't arrested, or called on, because of my skin. If I had been of color, I believe I would have been arrested. We can put a positive spin on everything. I may have gotten sober sooner, had I been caught. People do need consequences to shed light on their lives and be ready for change. But how does one put a positive spin on getting beaten by the police? All I can come up with is that they can live through it, and possibly help another person who goes through it. But it still is not right. You should read the book I mention. I know you have worked with homeless and a similar population. I was riled up after I read it. And I get even more riled up when I see it in action. I wouldn't say I feel sorry for anyone, because no one needs my pity to help them. I feel empathy and compassion (of which I know you do too) for those who are treated with absolute disregard, because of color. Our struggles are not equal. If addiction touches lives of black and white, than why is there such a huge discrepancy of those who are incarcerated? I can only come up with one reason. I can't change other people's consequences, but I do hope for change. As for legal intervention, I believe it is a horrible injustice to incarcerate addicts. If it is a brain disease, than treatment for that disease is the answer, not jail. Someday Deb. Someday.

  5. My mother is in assisted living and I have become close with a young man of color that works as a med tech in her facility. This young man is a caring, intelligent and well mannered person I'm proud to call my friend. He's about the same age as my oldest son and has come up in this world "the hard way" but works hard to provide for his son. In getting to know him, he's has told me about the numerous times he has been stopped by police "just because". You know what? That sucks. It doesn't happen to my white son!

  6. There are many reasons for higher statistics for incarceration of certain ethnicity however one needs to see behavior than their color. If you are facing a case ask your lawyer how a DUI can impact you. If he is unwilling to give specific answers, he likely do not practice enough drunk driving cases. My cousin works with a DUI attorney Los Angeles and that’s how I know things a bit.