White Privilege Fail…
“White privilege,” whether we recognize it or not, is pervasive throughout our society – it silently affects just about every area of my life, just as the lack of privilege silently impacts every area of many non-whites in America.
It colors people’s decisions and subtly affects opportunities for education, employment, housing, and access to services. It also subtly, but profoundly, affects the criminal justice system in America.
The key word here is subtly – if a white person applies for a great job and, during the interview, boldly informs the employer that they are perfect for the job because they are white, they probably are not going to get the job…
Similarly, when a 32-year-old woman in Bluffton, SC, blew through a four-way stop at 60 miles per hour while allegedly drunk, the officers were not amused when she informed them that she was a “very clean, thoroughbred, white girl” that shouldn’t be arrested…
Racial Bias in Criminal Justice
I’ve often wondered, sitting in a courtroom at the defense table, next to my black male client, how things would be different if he was an attractive, blonde, female fresh out of high school. The type that you would see on a cheerleading squad, hanging on her high school football player boyfriend’s arm…
How differently would the mostly-white jury see him? Would the prosecutor have pushed so hard for a lengthy prison sentence? Would we even be in trial or would the case have been worked out or dismissed?
Would he have been arrested in the first place?
Statistics on Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System
The racial inequity in our justice system is well-documented, and racial bias, conscious or unconscious, impacts decisions ranging from whether to charge a person, prosecute a person, offer pretrial diversion or a prison sentence, to the length of the person’s prison sentence.
It impacts decisions about whether to seek the death penalty and whether the defendant is given a death sentence.
Some key findings of the Sentencing Project include:
- In most states, Black people are incarcerated in prison at an average rate 5.1 times greater than Whites;
- In five states – Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin, the rate is greater than 10 to 1;
- In 12 states, including South Carolina, more than half the prison population is Black. In Maryland, the prison population is 72% Black;
- In 11 states, 1 in 20 adult Black males is in prison; and
- In Oklahoma, 1 in 15 adult Black males is in prison.
The Bluffton Cheerleader
The Bluffton woman above listed for the police all the reasons she should not be arrested – true enough, all the reasons she may have been privileged enough to avoid arrest in the past:
- She is White;
- Not just White, but a “thoroughbred,”
- She’s always had perfect grades;
- She was, in fact, a cheerleader;
- She was a sorority girl;
- She graduated from a University with honors; and, most importantly,
- She was dating a police officer.
“I’m a white, clean girl,” she said. “You’re a cop, you should know what that means.”
At least for the charging decisions, white privilege did not save her this time (although it remains to be seen whether she is prosecuted or offered pretrial diversion, and what her sentence might be) – after blowing a .18 on the breathalyzer, she was arrested and charged with DUI, speeding, disregarding a stop sign, possession of marijuana, and possession of paraphernalia.
By the Way, What’s Her Name?
When’s the last time you saw an article about an arrest where the media did not provide the defendant’s name? Make no mistake, the media’s decision to leave out her name was intentional.
What is White Privilege?
I confess, when I was first accused of benefitting from “white privilege,” I felt offended.
I get that non-Whites in America have been subjugated, suppressed, and abused for centuries and that the effect of white supremacy, explicit or implicit, is still at work today. But, I worked hard to get where I am – don’t make it my problem!
Except, it’s true. I’m not apologizing for where I was born or the color of my skin. It’s not about feeling ashamed of who I am or even giving up my own rights – but, the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the problem.
Before our society can stop suppressing people of color and truly provide equality, we must first acknowledge that there is inequality. For White people, that means acknowledging that we are and have always been privileged and that the opportunities that have been provided for me have been denied to others.
It’s not about dragging me down, or dragging down any middle class white person – it’s not a threat to you, me, or any other white person. It’s about lifting up other groups of people and making the same opportunities available to every person. It’s about undoing centuries of racial injustice in America.
Racism does not just manifest in individual acts of cruelty – it also manifests in “invisible systems” that preserve dominance for a particular race or group of people.
White privilege is experienced from childhood through old age – when you can walk down the street in a suburb or saunter through a department store without suspicious looks, you can survive a traffic stop without fear of being shot and killed, when you apply for a job or admission to a university or ask for credit to buy a car or a home…
White Privilege is Not the Only Invisible Privilege in America
There are other privileges, that often intersect with White privilege, that silently affect many Americans every day:
- Citizenship: if you are not a US citizen, even if you are here legally, you suffer prejudice and repression at every turn;
- Class: a large part of the Bluffton cheerleader’s hubris comes from “class privilege” as much as “white privilege” – being born into a wealthy or even middle-class family affords many opportunities that you may have taken for granted;
- Gender: employment opportunities, salary, and just having a judge take you seriously in court – many doors that men walk through are slammed in women’s faces;
- Sexual orientation: if you are not heterosexual, you experience discrimination in most areas of your life, from your everyday interactions to the most basic rights like choosing your partner, raising a child, and the ability to inherit from a spouse.
It is undeniable that all these factors play a role in criminal defense – it’s just easier to defend a white, middle class, heterosexual male than it is to defend someone from the “wrong side of the tracks,” especially when you have a white, middle or upper-class prosecutor, judge, and jury…
Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC
Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone focuses his practice on criminal defense cases in SC state and federal courts.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC, or believe that you are under investigation, call now at (843) 808-2100 or send us an email to speak with a Charleston, SC defense attorney today.