The interplay of privilege and systems

The interplay of systems is fascinating. Not seeing and not tracking systems is a privilege. I just learned this this weekend. Here’s the example that was shared:

Two black people are moving through the world, doing their work. They bring their dinner with them, because they don’t know necessarily where they’ll be when, and they want to eat good, healthy food. At dinner time, they find a spot to eat dinner. They park in an upper middle class neighborhood, turn off the engine, turn on the overhead light, and go about eating. They notice a woman walking her dog. They continue their conversation. A few minutes later, there are red and blue lights in their rear view mirror. A police officer approaches the car, hand on his gun, and asks if they live in the neighborhood. They tell him no. He asks what they are doing. They tell him they are having dinner. He asks if they are done. They say yes. He asks if they can move along. They say yes. He follows them out of the neighborhood.

The woman who told me this story said something along the lines of, my fear of the way the food system creates food desert caused me to want to bring my own dinner. I didn’t track the woman walking her dog in her upper-middle class neighborhood, a product of the economic system. And, because of this, didn’t track the possibility that an encounter with her (even though there was no real encounter) would lead to an intersection with the criminal justice system. All of these things conspired. And the thing is, it was actually a life threatening situation for them. The officer had his hand on his gun. One wrong” move, and one or both of them could be dead.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled over in a neighborhood to eat dinner, or nap, or just read in my car. At night. With the dome light on. I’ve never once had the police called to see what I was up to. I’ve been pulled over maybe 7 or 8 times. Not once has a police officer approached my car with their hand on their gun. I’m right at home in an upper-middle class neighborhood. I’ve never lived in a food desert. I’ve encountered them, but was always able to find my way to something that I wanted. These systems have largely been invisible to me. They have largely been an intellectual idea.

For these folks, they were very real. In fact, they are very real, as this is only one of many stories that they hold.

I share this mostly so we can see how what we notice, what impacts us, is shaped by the way we are allowed to interact wit the world. We can begin to see a broader view of things by encountering stories like the one above. Let’s all strive to reach for that.

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