Red, White, and Blue

The hues of red, white, and blue reserve a sacred place in my heart. When I see the trifecta of our nation’s glorious colors, only one thought comes to mind: I am being pulled over right now.

I feel it first in the acceleration of my heart’s pumping, and next in a stream of thoughts that had once included “What did I do wrong?” and “Am I being Punk’d?” but now consists of “How many times is this?” and “I don’t know what I did wrong, but I probably deserve this.”

I deserve it, but have yet to feel it. The soul-crushing, tear-provoking notice, which — like money — carries much more weight than the paper it’s printed on. The coal-in-the-stocking of the road. The ticket.

I have been pulled over four times, three of them being at night without my headlights on — once alone, once before my provisional ended with my 19-year-old sister in the car, and once without my license. I was let go each of those times.

Standard questions followed the pull-overs: Anything to drink? Any drugs in the car? Do you know why you were pulled over? I respectfully answered “no” to all of their tired questions. But being warned rather than ticketed hasn’t been the result of consecutive no’s. It’s been the result of a “yes.”

While my extraordinarily wise U.S. history teacher was a gifted educator, his real-world  tangents may have provided me with most beneficial knowledge. He once told us about running a red light.

He described — and I’ve verified — that the gateway to escaping a ticket is admitting, with a respectful, dignified and apologetic tone, that you know you’ve done wrong.

The tactic of rhetorical admittance — “My headlights were off, weren’t they?” may suffice. A demeanor which reflects understanding should be maintained throughout the process. But as glad as I was to get out of these tickets, I will not brag: it is not something to be proud of.

In places other than the liberal Bay Area, language won’t be the deciding factor of how I’m treated, and a ticket won’t be the subject matter. I probably won’t be stopped, nor frisked. I won’t be suspected of crime unless some type of evidence presses me. I’ll have virtually no chance of being shot by a police officer. All this, provided by the fact that I’m white. Privilege is not something to be proud of.

I have seen violent racism, but only through screens. In places like Petaluma, my language may — for the most part — spare me. Elsewhere, the fact that I’m white automatically absolves  me from threat from law enforcement.This is nothing to be proud of.