An Experience in White Privilege OR The Story of the Dog in My Car

DOGINCAR

(image is of the very backside of the very large dog sitting in my somewhat messy car.)

       It was an ordinary day, and I had ordinary plans.

                Work.  Check.  Grocery store.  Check.  Driving home, I went over my next plans, of laundry to do, an essay to write, fanfic to read.

                I pulled into my driveway and noticed a large white dog sitting there.  I had no idea, of course, that this dog was out to completely derail my nice, ordinary plans.

                “Do you know this dog?”  I asked my landlord as I opened my door.  He was standing in the garden next to the driveway – he lives in one of the other units in our building.

                “No, he just appeared,” he answered. 

I turned back to the passenger seat to get my things, and the dog decided to be friendly.

“Hello.  Who do you belong to?”  I asked him.

He didn’t answer, but apparently my friendliness was an invitation, because he promptly climbed into my lap and over me, into the passenger seat of my car, where he sat, expectantly, as if I was Cinderella’s coach and he was a princess off to a ball.  He had a collar but no tags.  He was an ordinary, if rather large, dog.

My car is not exactly clean, but it isn’t downright dirty, either, and I did not like a strange dog getting his muddy paws all over my upholstery.  I told him so.

He did not appear to care.

My landlord came over.  We attempted to coax the dog out.  He sat.

I began to panic.  I pulled out my phone and tried calling animal control.  They had closed forty-five minutes earlier.  There was no emergency number.

I had a large, unknown dog in my car, groceries to unpack, a life to live, and no idea whatsoever of what to do next, so I did what an ordinary white citizen does in such a situation. I called the police.

“What kind of dog is it?”  asked the police.

“A dog dog,”  I said, all my knowledge of breeds thrown out the window by stress.  “He’s white…..ish…..he kind of looks like a bulldog…..or a pitbull……he’s very…..large.”

The police promised to send someone right over.

I continued to panic.  A neighbor attempted to get the dog out.  The dog stayed.  The neighbor told me that the dog lived three houses down and pointed out the open gate.  I ran there, knocked on the door, hollered for help.  No answer.

I called some friends.  All thought that the situation was ridiculous, but I was in no real danger.  It was, after all, just a dog.  I called my mother.  She was visiting with my aunt and I was in no real danger.  It was, after all, just a dog.

Twenty-five very long minutes later, a cruiser pulled up and an officer got out.  He was soon joined by two more colleagues.  They were all white men, and although I was hit by a sudden wave of humiliation, I was in no way afraid.

“He won’t leave!”  I may have been in tears by this point.  “He is in my car!  And he won’t leave!”

The police officers soon determined that the dog would not, in fact, leave.  Even with bribes of food from me and the police.

It was now almost an hour into this ordeal and I was getting a little hysterical. The officers kept calling me ‘ma’am’ and this unnerved me because it wasn’t my name.  Involuntarily my hands were going haywire.  It occurred to me at this point to mention to the officers that I had high-functioning autism* and that was why I was so upset, not because of the dog, exactly, but because what if the dog never left and he was interrupting my routine.  I did notice that after I made that confession – and a confession it was – the police officer’s body language changed a bit.  Was it just my imagination, or were they calmer, more deliberate in their movements and voices?  They saw I was uncomfortable with the ‘ma’am’ and asked my name and introduced themselves, using mnemonics so I’d remember them.  (I didn’t have time to explain face blindness, and so today, I have really no idea who they were.)

I was embarrassed.  Cops were expensive.  What if a robbery or a murder was happening elsewhere while three cops helped me deal with a wayward dog?  I tried to explain this to the officers.  They said that they didn’t care.  One officer in particular explained that this situation was exactly what cops were there for.  When people couldn’t deal with a situation, when we didn’t know what to do, I was supposed to call the police.  Always.  They never minded, he said.  They always cared.

This was supposed to make me feel better.  It actually did.

Finally, the cops located the dog’s owner.  Said owner came, unceremoniously grabbed the dog out of my car, and left without a single apology or glance my way.  The cops reiterated that I should always call if I needed help of any kind, and departed, (no doubt to have a good laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation as they wrote it up.)  I went inside, put away my groceries, mentally threw away my evening plans from sheer exhaustion.  I posted pictures of the ordeal on facebook, tried to remember that I will laugh about this some day, went to bed.

And it was not until the next morning that it occurred to me that not once during the ordeal was I the slightest bit afraid of the police officers.

I was afraid of the dog.  I was afraid, mainly, that he would stay in my car forever and never leave, because rational thought it not always my strong point in a crisis.  I was afraid that he would defecate and the smell would stay there forever.  I was afraid that he would bite or growl. I was afraid that people would think I was stupid for getting so upset over such a silly, random thing.

But I was not afraid of the police.  I did not hesitate to call the police.

I never have been.

This is a privilege.

In the light of a new day, I wonder if I would have called the police if my skin was not so pale, if I did not have the solid background of an upper-middle-class WASP.  If I were nonverbal.  If I didn’t speak English so well.  If……if…….if……..

I like to think that all of the police in my small city are fair.  I like to think that they treat all people equally.  I like to think that racism is something that happens a few neighborhoods over, that there would never be a shooting this side of the river, that my state is kinder, nicer, better.

But I know that is not true.  I know.  I see the statistics and know that my life is a lie, an apple-blossom-pink-and-white fantasy, a liberal enclave where all my friends agree as a matter of course that Black Lives Matter.

Looking back, I realize that the whole experience of the dog-in-car situation was more than just a ridiculous event I will tell stories about to make people laugh.  It was an exercise in luxury.  It was one privileged person employing her privilege, to call people who carry the means to kill me and be able to trust that they will not.  On an ordinary day, dealing with an unordinary event, I never feared being blamed.  I never feared being fined.  I never feared anything at all, except that big white dog.

I am thankful.

I am thankful that the dog is gone.  I am thankful that he did not destroy my car.  I am thankful that the cops were kind, and thoughtful, and genuinely caring. 

I am thankful that I never truly had to worry that they would be anything but…….even as I despair of a world where so many will never be able to see the police as I did.  Safe.

 

 

 

*I do not ordinarily use this term. However, I did use it here deliberately because I thought that police might be more familiar with autism than Asperger’s syndrome, but did not want to completely jar them with the disconnect between what they might expect an autistic person to look like.  I was in a situation where I needed people to be on my side, and the term ‘high-functioning’ ensured that they saw me as a full, capable citizen.

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