Illustrating Privilege

We're here in Chicago, and thanks to the generosity of our hosts (laurakeet and her partner), I'm able to post despite having cleverly left my laptop power cord at home.

As we drove down yesterday, we were stopped briefly at the border, when the lovely gents at DHS decided I didn't have enough on me to prove that I was coming back to Canada.

I thought, briefly, that it might be funny to point out that my Health card provided a pretty good incentive for me to go back, but thought better of it*.

We pulled over into the inspection bay. And we went inside, as asked, and waited to see an officer. Meanwhile, they're searching the car behind us.

While it's happening, I'm thinking, "Oh...I really hope that I didn't put my stash or one of my pipes in my bag on autopilot while packing the last-minute stuff!" And the_pixie_mouse is thinking, "Please don't let them question about my pill bottle."

Because when she visits me, she tends to bring along a single bottle with enough of each of her regular meds to cover her for the time she's visiting - much easier than carrying half a dozen little pill bottles, y'see? Only of course it's not specifically legal. By law, if you're crossing the border particularly, you have to have the labelled prescription bottles.

So where does the privilege start? When the border officer comes back inside from the car search, and calls us over to the counter, where he asks the_pixie_mouse about her meds. She decides to play dumb a bit, say she didn't know she wasn't supposed to do that, and he let us off with no more than a short lecture.

That's the privilege, right there, in being two middle-class white women, and not, say, two middle-class brown women. He said he didn't think it looked like we were likely to be aiming to sell the narcotics we were bringing in, but was unspecific as to how he came to that conclusion. I find it difficult to believe that at least one factor that went into that conclusion wasn't race.

See? That's how privilege works. You don't have to want it. You can even hate having it. You can be someone who spends a lot of time and effort on trying to eradicate unearned privilege.

But you can't make other people not give it to you.

Even if we'd both stood there and insisted they treat us as they would someone who didn't have our privilege, all it would have done is make them think we're a bit less than totally secure in our sanity. It wouldn't make a blind bit of difference to how they will perceive the next brown folk who come along. We can't make them suspect us as they would those brown people.

Having privilege doesn't make you a bad person. It's out of your control, for the most part.

Taking advantage of it, when you have a choice?. That's where being a bad person starts.

* In the end, they believed me, basically because I said so. More privilege. Also, they said that having a phone bill or cable bill would have sufficed in showing I intended to return to Canada. I leave to the reader the job of assessing the logic behind that decision - that my several pieces of government-issued picture ID wouldn't convince them, but the fact that I have once had cable service would.

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