I have a lead foot. It's gotten me into trouble several times and I've had my fair share of speeding tickets. I've even had friends warn me that neighbors are asking who the owner is of the big red Yukon GMC flying through the neighborhood. I don't even realize I'm doing it. One particular time, I was going 10 over on Wasatch Blvd on the East benches. Anyone who's anyone in Sandy KNOWS you don't speed on that road. I forgot and went on my merry way, having engaging conversation with my husband, until I saw the gut punching flashing police lights in my rear view mirror. Alex was in the passenger seat (since he knows how much I love driving) and as the cop approached my window and asked for my license and registration, I felt an IMMEDIATE shift of energy in the car. My buoyant, fun, and energetic husband, who sings and dances and makes people laugh for a living, went completely still and silent. I couldn't even hear him breathe. To be honest, I was almost annoyed that he basically left me to fend for myself (even though the speeding was all my doing) and didn't once say one single word in my defense to the officer. Silent. Unmoving. UnWILLING. "Back me up man," I thought in my head, full well knowing he couldn't do anything about the situation, but all the while wanting him to defend me while the cop was doing paperwork in his patrol car. Mute. Still. Nervous. His whole body language changed. Alex uses his hands, he gets loud, his expression is undeniable, but in this circumstance, he may as well have been a statue in a department store completely expressionless. He seemed to slouch a little too, leaning back more in the seat, looking down into his lap and NOT SAYING A WORD. Just left me to deal with my own consequences. I didn't get it. And I was irritated.
I remember another incident when we had just returned from a date and I asked him to take the babysitter home. "Can you do that instead?" he asked me. Again, irritated. I had a baby to nurse, a diaper to change, and a house to clean up that the babysitter of course didn't do, and now he wanted me to take her home? Thanks for that. I just thought he could help me share the load a little bit that night and was bugged that I had to take the sitter home while he held a screaming baby who was hungry, when we easily could have switched jobs. It would have taken 5 minutes to take her home. I didn't get it.
Just recently, while quarantining, homeschooling kids, and dealing with the nerves of an earthquake, we dealt with a disgruntled neighbor who screamed and cursed at me (in front of my 7 kids), for a ball accidentally going onto his lawn. The kids were at "recess" and were playing in the cul-de-sac and were too afraid to get the ball because of his outbursts in the past. I mustered up the courage to be the grown up, and walked onto his driveway to retrieve the ball. He threw his hands in the air, dropped more F bombs than I can count, told me I had no respect for his property and that I was the reason our society was so messed up because I couldn't control my kids. He was so close to me I could smell him, and see the pores on his face. He was way out of line and my kids were bawling out of fear, but I wanted to show them that I could keep my cool even when my blood was boiling. The neighbors called the police when they saw him yelling at me, and just then, Alex pulled up. Which made me nervous. This time he defended me and his kids, and it terrified me. Not because Alex was in the wrong, but because I knew we were up against a middle aged white man, and Alex was, well....BLACK. In a PREDOMINANTLY white community. Like, he's the only black man in our ward. And in the neighborhood that I know of. This time he didn't sink into the passenger seat or stay silent. And I wanted him to. The neighbor got even more agitated, walked into his house and came back outside, waving his rifle in the air and pointing at it, letting us know, without a doubt, that he had one and that "You Nigerians should go back to where you came from." My heart at this point is pounding and thankfully at that moment, ten cop cars came flying through our neighborhood and took the situation under control. Alex and I had retreated back to our house, and I watched him stay behind closed doors and explain to me that he was SO glad the cops were trying to settle the neighbor down, and not him. For reasons only black people would understand.
I've learned a lot about race, culture and divide being married to a black man. I've learned that when cops are involved, many black people quietly submit, or sink into the passenger seat, rather than plead their cause (or defend their wife's speeding ticket) because it's the safer choice. I've learned that I will forever be the one to take the sitter home because it's better to "avoid the appearance of evil," and not to drink hot chocolate out of the Starbucks cup so to speak. And that it just "looks better." I've learned that sometimes Alex is late to an appointment in NYC because it takes twice as long for a black man to hail a cab than a white man, unless he's dressed to the 9's and appears to have money. I've learned that oftentimes when Alex is being interviewed for radio and says he has 7 kids, he also has to explain "From the same mother." I've learned that he puts up with a lot of black jokes from some of the best of friends who feel like they can say it, because they know him (or their brother in law is black so it's fine), and he can get his feelings hurt. And I've learned in the end, that sadly, I would rather have Alex defend his family by going inside, shutting the door behind him, and staying silent, then losing him to a gunshot wound from a racist neighbor.
The truth is, I just didn't understand. White privilege exists, but I didn't even know it was a thing. So many times I feel guilty for just being white, because I don't even know what privileges I'm getting that my black female friend isn't. Maybe I'm ignorant, but I don't know what it's like without the privilege. And I dare say, there are many of us that don't. Which I guess is the reason I'm writing this.
Some of us white kids just need an explanation. We need to hear the stories, not the ones in the media, though they're important, but the everyday experiences of black people having to justify themselves when we do not. And maybe in a future day, Alex can take the sitter home without it looking suspicious. Maybe he'll be able to say he has a ton of kids without the assumption that they're from different women. And maybe, just maybe he'll be able to defend his wife and kids from an unruly neighbor with a good old-fashioned fist punch to the face, without being afraid he'll be arrested for it.
In the meantime, I'll try to avoid building resentment about things I do not and cannot understand, as well as speeding tickets.
A version of this article was published June 4, 2020 on deseretnews.com. View story here.