White nun privilege

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I got pulled over for speeding the other day in south St. Louis, pretty much a white, working-class neighborhood coming into the city. I wasn’t intending to speed -- or rather the speed limit was 65 and I intended to be driving at about 70, keeping up with traffic. But I was listening to a good book and when I saw the flashing lights I guessed I’d been going faster. I asked and the highway patrolman said 80, maybe 76. I nodded.

My car is registered in the name of the Sisters of Loretto, so I waited to see what he would do. He asked if I was going home and where I’d been and then he spotted a paper sticking out of my purse. He asked, “Is that about the police?”

It was a three-page description of a black women’s organization, Mothers for Change. They are women whose children have been murdered. I’d been at their meeting the night before. The officer scanned the whole three pages and then pointed to one section and said, “The problem is the family.”

I said, “I think the problem is jobs and education. If we spent the money on schools there that we spend in Clayton and Ladue, if we spent that money for poor children and working class children, your children too, the world would be a better place.”

“No, it’s the family,” he insisted.

He told me he had been a police officer in Jennings. Jennings shut down its police department when faced with a Department of Justice investigation. In my bag, along with the Mothers for Change paper was the New Yorker issue that profiles Darren Wilson, who shot Mike Brown and whose first police job had been in Jennings. I didn’t say anything more. My fate was in his hands. He let me off with a warning because, he said, I hadn’t argued about the speed I’d been going, and he told me to careful getting back into traffic.

African Americans talk about getting a DWB -- Driving While Black. Even if my car had not been registered to "the sisters," as a white woman I would have had a good chance of just getting a warning. And he could have given me a ticket. But because I'm a nun, and because I'm not black, the odds were in my favor.

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