Three Tales of Privilege

A White Boy’s Account of Delinquency

Those who know me intimately are well aware I have a past one might describe as “colorful”. My adolescence was thoroughly reckless, and while I have a pretty clean conscience in terms of what I’ve done, it is hard for me to square what I’ve “gotten away with” with Grand Rapids making national headlines for yet another despicable, extrajudicial murder of a young black man. Patrick Lyoya was almost exactly the same age as myself: he was shot in the back of the head execution-style at 26 years old on April 4th, 2022, 2 days before my 27th birthday.

Due to some of the more questionable activities of my youth, I’m keenly aware of the privilege my whiteness affords me. As much as I can try to put it to use for the benefit of POC, there are plenty of situations in which I’ve indisputably benefitted from being white. I hope that in recounting some of them, some of the extra salty Saltines who may be turned off by the phrase “white privilege” come to a better understanding of the implication of the term. (I realize referring to them as “Saltines” may not be the best way to win them over, but the importance of being able to laugh at oneself is also pretty key to these stories.)

We’ll start mild and get spicier as we go.

“Excellent Career Choice”

When I was 19, back in the Dark Ages of Cannabis Prohibition, I got arrested in possession of just under an ounce of freshly purchased marijuana, right around the corner from my caregiver’s house. Incidentally, it was my cautiousness which ended up being the reason I was busted: my car had a headlight out, so I asked a couple friends to drop me off on his street and while I walked to his house, some zealous Neighborhood Watch type called the police, reporting me as a “suspicious figure”. Within about a hundred yards of my friend picking me up, the red and blue lights started flashing behind us and about 4 or 5 Ottawa County Sheriff vehicles came out of the fucking woodwork. If you think this sounds wildly excessive, you aren’t wrong, that’s just Ottawa County. I wish I were kidding.

After separating us and grilling us under the pretext of “a series of home invasions in the neighborhood”, an officer walked over to me from one of my friends and drilled into me that he knew I just bought drugs, I just had to confess to how much and they’d be more lenient. I thought for sure my friend had flipped on me. In hindsight, I think it’s more likely that the cop figured us for druggies more than B&E artists and got me to flip on myself. I insisted that I didn’t get it from the house they saw me get picked me up from and that it was all for personal use and not for selling, and my scale was just for verification purposes, so I managed to dodge a felony “intent to distribute” charge. I was never moving major weight, mostly just selling enough to smoke for free, but that distinction would’ve mattered very little in court.

My day in court came and I was sentenced to a year of probation and almost $800 in fines. I knew my nervous bladder would cause me issues on probation, but what I should’ve been worried about was my smartass mouth. For a baseline sample, I had to pee in a cup on my sentencing date. I sat in that fucking room for literally hours, attempting to mind-over-matter my bladder into cooperating, but like some quantum dick phenomena, any time it’s being watched, I no longer have to pee. The observing cop was getting reasonably frustrated with my inability to produce a sample, and snapped at me: “In 20 years of doing this, I have NEVER seen someone struggle so much with something so simple!”

Now, the correct response, the thing I should’ve said, would’ve been something like, “Yeah, I don’t know why my body is betraying me like this, I’m not having any fun here either,” but instead, what came out was:

“You’ve been watching people piss for 20 years? Wow, excellent career choice,” with an audible eye roll.

As you can probably imagine, he didn’t take too kindly to my sarcasm. I had to leave the courthouse for their lunch break, still not having provided a sample, to return an hour later and everyone from the metal detector cop to the probation office secretary had heard about the snarky redhead stoner, and they all expressed their disapproval. I eventually managed to produce a urine sample, and was cleared to go home. I can’t confidently say the same would’ve happened if I had more melanin. Incidentally, becoming a phlebotomist years later would mean I’d have to handle my own fair share of stranger’s urine in the lab. Karma is a tricky mistress.

Hell Week

I may have a slight problem with authority.

For the first six months of my probation, I followed a calculated routine: attend my check-in with my P.O., produce a clean sample, immediately go get as high as my lungs would permit, smoke as frequently as possible for around 10 days, then drink copious amounts of water and cranberry juice, take niacin, and exercise more regularly than ever. At my six month appointment, I came in to find the waiting room packed with exceptionally nervous probationers. I sat down next to a guy about my age, leaned over, and whispered, “Hey, what’s going on? Why’s everyone sweating so much more than usual?”

“New testing machine,” he whispered back. “It centrifuges your piss and gets like, all the exact levels of everything,” OH. FUCK. My head started to spin and my sweat glands started to mimic the rest in the room. My P.O. called me into the bathroom and I knew deep down what was about to happen. Fifteen excruciating minutes ticked past, and she called me into her office. “What happened, Alex?”

“Uhhh…what do you mean?” I tried feigning ignorance in the hopes that she didn’t have the evidence against me that I suspected.

My hopes were dashed. “You tested positive for THC, how’d that happen?” she asked aloofly.

I sucked my teeth. “You got me,” I sighed, slumping back in my chair. “Now what happens?” What happened then was I went back in front of the judge, got sentenced to one week in jail, an additional six months of probation, plus some extra fines to top it off. Those bong rips weren’t worth it by a long shot.

While in the county jail, I met a young man who was nearly a direct parallel to me, save for his complexion. We were both GVSU sophomores, both incarcerated on account of probation violations for initial marijuana possession charges, both first time offenders. The other difference besides our skin tone was that he had been in there for more than 2 weeks already and had no news of when he was getting arraigned. This really struck me sharply with the awareness of my privilege. He wasn’t bitter, at least not towards me, and accepted it as the reality of being black in America. This heartbreaking sort of disparity happens constantly in our country.

Late Night Trip

A week was more than enough for me; after I got out of jail, I didn’t smoke again for the remainder of my probation. However, that didn’t mean my rebellious streak was curbed.

As Fate would have it, LSD was blowing up in popularity in my peer group around this time and acid can’t be reliably detected on a urine test, so I adapted, and started dropping acid on a semiregular basis. At first, I loved it. Thanks to its longstanding misrepresentation in the media, it wasn’t at all what I anticipated. No iridescent dragons circled my head, no purple elephants stormed through the wall, but my ideas started absolutely flying. Patterns shifted and revealed themselves, colors glowed with a new magnificence, the most mundane brick wall became a masterpiece unlike anything I’d ever seen.

But it wasn’t all a lovely Alex-in-Wonderland experience. I’ve previously detailed some of the key lessons I learned over the course of my psychedelic experiences, but not the story of this particular night.

My friend group and I took 2 or 3 tabs each, smoked a few bowls between about 4 of us, and went to Steak n’ Shake for dinner. We belligerently devoured our meals, laughing heartily as we did so, probably causing quite a scene. I went up to the counter and paid for the meal and we headed back to my mom’s house for some post-meal partaking.

As we sat in my Honda Civic, parked on the road around the corner of my mom’s house, we passed around a hefty blunt until visibility was decreased to a foot or two in front of one’s face. Coughing and laughing, we lit another, and as we began the rotation again, an unfamiliar sedan mysteriously pulled into my mom’s driveway. A man in a zip-up hoodie and jeans got out and walked up the front walkway, knocked on the door, waited a minute or so, then shined a flashlight through our front window.

“What the fuck…” I muttered. “Who the fuck is this looking in my windows?”

“You should go say something, dude,” one of my friends suggested. “What if he’s trying to break in?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I conceded. “Ugh, I didn’t want to deal with a confrontation tonight…”

I hopped out of my car with vigor, ready to swing on a burglar if necessary. I marched briskly toward the stranger, hoping to intimidate them away from my home. “Excuse me!” I shouted. “What are you doing outside my house? Can I help you?”

“Hey, did you eat at Steak n’ Shake tonight?” he asked.

“…Yes,” I answered pensively.

“A-ha! I’m Officer [so-and-so], I was picking up some dinner as I was getting off-duty and I noticed this wallet on their counter!” he announced as he produced my black leather wallet from his back pocket. “I saw the address was on my way home, figured it wouldn’t be much trouble to drop it off.”

My guts turned into a rollercoaster. Internally I was screaming my lungs out, but outside, I had to play it cool.

“Oh! Th-thank you!”

“So what are you guys up to tonight?” Doing my best not to shit myself on the spot, I tried to concoct a believable alibi.

“You know…uh… just some video games, hanging out…” I stammered.

“Don’t lie to me. I can smell it.”

My butthole clenched so tight, it threatened to pull me inside of myself.

“…we’re smoking some weed,” I confessed defeatedly, careful not to look too directly into his eyes and expose my enormously dilated pupils.

“Well, lucky for you, I just got off a 10 hour shift and I have no interest in doing more paperwork. Toss that shit, and don’t let me catch you doing it again,” he sighed as he put my wallet into my hand.

The relief that washed over me nearly crumpled my legs beneath me. “Thank you…” I breathed. “Have a good night, Officer!” I quickly added.

I turned to my friends in the hazy car in utter disbelief and gave them a shrug as the plain clothes cop made his way back to his car. The concrete of my driveway melted and shifted under my feet, the trees in my yard bent and contorted like circus performers, beams from the streetlights danced in my peripherals. I steadied myself before returning to my car, still flabbergasted, and sat speechless in the driver’s seat.

“Dude, who was that? What did he give you?” my panicked fellow burnouts interrogated me. I pulled out my wallet and showed them.

“…Apparently I left it at Steak n’ Shake…? That was…an off-duty cop.”

WHAT?!”

Overlapping disbelief and raucous laughter erupted in the smoky Civic. My friends congratulated me on my level-headedness and good fortune, but looking at the bigger picture, I know his willingness both to bring me my wallet and to look the other way on our stoney shenanigans was likely attributable to my whiteness.

When conversations surrounding “privilege” take a turn for the worse, it’s usually due to some sort of misunderstanding. Many feel like “privileged” implies a certain cushiness and comfort that they feel wasn’t present in their lives, or as though “white privilege” doesn’t apply because their struggles have balanced, or even outweighed, any privileges their whiteness has afforded them. This is never the case in America.

It can certainly be difficult, especially when undermined by factors like poverty or domestic violence, to discern how much one benefits from being white. However, white supremacy has such a deeply engrained history in our country, its inescapable effects are felt in every facet of life for BIPOC. We don’t have to worry about Sundown Towns, our names don’t jeopardize our job applications, and we don’t have to worry that a traffic stop could mean our life coming to an abrupt and violent end. When juxtaposed with the experience of black and brown Americans, these are privileges. If you don’t like being called privileged, my suggestion is to contribute toward equalizing quality of life for people of color instead of looking for ways in which you perceive oppression.

A 27-year-old phlebotomist who lives in Grand Rapids, MI. His interests include movies, linguistics, philosophy, comedy, sexuality, religion & spirituality.

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Alexander Wilson

Alexander Wilson

A 27-year-old phlebotomist who lives in Grand Rapids, MI. His interests include movies, linguistics, philosophy, comedy, sexuality, religion & spirituality.

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