Driving while white

Pennsylvania

So yesterday, a white woman busted an illegal U-turn right in front of the cop who was in front of me.

I couldn’t see the front side of the cop’s light bar, but I assume he turned it on, as oncoming traffic stopped. He also, somehow, got the woman’s attention.

My Black passenger wondered what was going on. I explained that the cop was chewing out the woman for an illegal U-turn.

As a practical matter, it would have been extremely difficult in that situation for the cop to have written her a ticket. There was too much traffic already part-way into the intersection and even she had had trouble completing the turn, having had to back up (gee, I wonder why U-turns are illegal there) in order to complete it (the cop was, of course, in a larger vehicle), and there was no place to safely pull over.

My passenger expressed incredulity that she’d done that U-turn right in front of a cop. But, in effect, and as I explained to my passenger, the woman was getting away with it. And I could only say, there’s hardly any enforcement around here as long as you’re white.

“That’s true,” replied my passenger. Of course I think race plays a factor in traffic stops. I’ve seen far, far too much that’s completely over the top around here to believe otherwise.[1] And for cops to deny that they’re racist, as they do in this story,[2] only confirms for me, yet again, that they are.

Ivey DeJesus, “Does a driver’s race factor into traffic stops by Pa. police? It’s nearly impossible to tell,” PennLive, December 9, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/12/tracking-race-in-police-traffic-stops-across-central-pa.html


Vietnam Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is what happens when you can’t admit the war was a catastrophically bad idea to start with.

Some of us knew that it was, even if for imprecise reasons. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I remember hearing a news clip on the radio in which George W. Bush said something that made me think the missiles were already on the way.

There I was driving across the Presidio Heights neighborhood in San Francisco (with the windows rolled up) screaming, “No! No! No!” Again and again, I screamed it. “No! No! No!”

It turned out that missiles had not yet been launched, but I was nonetheless convinced that attacking a Muslim country could only make our relations with Muslims worse—and to the extent that Islam was in any way connected to the 9/11 attacks, we were only setting ourselves up for more.

That hasn’t precisely happened either, here in the U.S. and at least not yet, anyway. Although our relationship with Pakistan is severely strained, there’s been no repeat of the 9/11 attacks.

But while I had not yet returned to school (that would happen in 2003), I had learned enough of the history of Afghanistan to realize this was a doomed idea.

You didn’t even have to go back very far in history to examples of the British humiliation there. The Soviet Union’s defeat there is often blamed, at least in part, for its collapse.

But here we were, with fucking Bush the younger and a bunch of neoconservatives filled with hubris, idiots every damned one of them.

Not that Bush’s successors have been any better. One story that emerges again and again in the Washington Post‘s history of the war[3] will be familiar to scholars of colonization anywhere: That of a colonial power swooping in, certain of its rectitude, certain of the superiority of its own ways, heedless of what “backward,” “corrupt,” “stupid,” (pick any of a number of disparaging labels) local people would tell them. The power doesn’t need to know about local conditions and local reality because it has technology and experience, because it “knows better.”[4]

Another will be familiar to those who remember the war in Vietnam: We must pretend to succeed even when we are failing.[5]

Craig Whitlock, “At war with the truth,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/

Craig Whitlock, “Stranded without a strategy,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-strategy/

Craig Whitlock, “Built to fail,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-nation-building/

Craig Whitlock, “Consumed by corruption,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-corruption-government/

Craig Whitlock, “Unguarded nation,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-army-police/

Craig Whitlock, “Overwhelmed by opium,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-opium-poppy-production/


Grants

It’s yet another obstacle to being hired where I should be hired. If I had a publication track record, I might have a better chance of being hired at a university. But to do that research I would need funding.

And it turns out that to be funded, I would likely need to be affiliated with (employed at) an elite university like Stanford or an Ivy League.[6]

Nothing is honest anymore.

Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, “How Elitism Marginalizes Academics,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 5, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191204-Herlihy-Mera


  1. [1]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/; David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/; David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/
  2. [2]Ivey DeJesus, “Does a driver’s race factor into traffic stops by Pa. police? It’s nearly impossible to tell,” PennLive, December 9, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/12/tracking-race-in-police-traffic-stops-across-central-pa.html
  3. [3]Craig Whitlock, “At war with the truth,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/; Craig Whitlock, “Stranded without a strategy,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-strategy/; Craig Whitlock, “Built to fail,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-nation-building/; Craig Whitlock, “Consumed by corruption,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-corruption-government/; Craig Whitlock, “Unguarded nation,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-army-police/; Craig Whitlock, “Overwhelmed by opium,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-opium-poppy-production/
  4. [4]Edward W. Said’s account mostly relates to India in Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1993), where the struggle against colonization lasted hundreds of years.
  5. [5]David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 2000).
  6. [6]Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera, “How Elitism Marginalizes Academics,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 5, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191204-Herlihy-Mera

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