Thursday, November 08, 2012

Driving While White

Many years ago, I saw an interesting program on TV titled “driving while black” or DWB. It basically described the racist police harassment that African-American (or non-American) motorists experience when driving in the USA (or in other countries like the UK). The police disproportionately pull them over, question them without any reason and just treat them differently in many ways. I felt really bad watching it. But at the same time, I had just come back from SE Asia where a similar phenomenon exists and where I, too, experienced it. I shall call it (if someone has not already called it that way) “Driving While White” and the acronym here will be DWW. This also exists somewhat in mestizo Latin American countries where a Nordic/Anglo person will stick out like a sore thumb and will get pulled over. I call it DWG- Driving While Gringo or DWY- “Driving While Yanqui”. It goes something like this- a white person who has the audacity to drive a car in certain SE Asian countries, or mestizo countries or any other countries where people do not look like him/her, gets pulled over, is searched for no reason and is often charged with a trivial or a non- trivial offense to get him/her to pay a fine or pass a bribe. There is a variation on the theme which we shall call “Riding While White”- RWW. This may refer to being on a motorcycle and not wearing a helmet (while the locals are not doing it either- and do not get pulled over -or barely ever get pulled over, but you are singled out and the law comes down on you really hard!) It can also just mean being a passenger in a car and the police getting a glimpse of your white mug in the car window and starting up the bells and whistles on their police vehicle and going into hot pursuit- “here is Mr. Dollar himself in the car and we are gonna get us some greenbacks now!” The local driver will then get charged with a trumped up violation and asked to pay a bribe inside the police car. His fault- having a Rockefeller in his car-he is rich now and he should share the money with the fuzz. And a sub-variation of that is TRWW- trying to get a ride ( in a taxi) while white- which means you will be charged higher fares and the driver will refuse to use the meter or will ask money on top of the meter fare. In all fairness, there are also reversals in the DWW and RWW phenomenon. In some cases locals or non-white people will be stopped and you won’t be. Where and how will that happen? Well, one example will be what often happens in the same SE Asia ( or Latin America) where you are never thought to speak the local language (no use convincing them that you do) and they cannot speak English(well) so they will just avoid dealing with you at all. You will simply be waved through because the officer will think that he cannot talk to you or that he does not want to give his country a bad name by harassing a tourist. Because you are thought to be a visitor, he will smile at you and wish you a happy stay in his land- even though you may be a permanent resident there. A case in point can be as ridiculous as a Spaniard driving in Puerto Rico and getting taken for a “Gringo” tourist because of his white skin- he is not stopped, the cop tells him in English- “enjoy Puerto Rico!” and lets the Americano go with a smile. The Spaniard is a non-English speaking immigrant or visitor and the Puerto Rican cop is a US citizen and the latter is too shy to speak English to the former! ROTFLMAO! Also, DWW and RWW can sometimes be an advantage especially in Gulf Arab countries where some cops will not fine you but treat you with kid’s gloves while they are searching for undesirable poorer Arabs or locals to harass. But again, not always- in other cases you will be treated harsher that the others. Some have ticket quotas to fulfill and they do not care who and what you are. But at least the Gulf Arab cops will not hit you for a bribe. In Japan, you will be pulled over and asked for your Foreigner Identification Card or a passport. No bribe is needed. And I remember getting stopped by cops while riding a bicycle on suspicion of stealing it. Usually, a university ID card would get them off my back. There is also WWW- Walking While White. My friend who was in China in the early 90ies would be stopped by cops and dragged into a clinic for a mandatory AIDS test. But before you start gloating, keep in mind that driving while black, riding while black and walking while black can be big advantages, too. If there is anti- American sentiment anywhere with people threatening to kill Americans and /or actually going out there and looking for Americans to kill, they will normally not attack a black American person who is just there in a civilian capacity and who is simply walking, driving and/or riding around. When I was in Saudi in 2003 and the US attacked Iraq, a spate of anti-American attacks around the Middle East began. As a result a German and an Irish person were killed near our base and even I got threatened, but no one attacked any of my black American coworkers who were walking, driving or riding around there. They were thought to be Sudanese, Nigerians, Chadis and Muslims, of course, and no one paid attention to them. When an angry local warrior, indignated by US imperialist deeds, pulls out his sabre from its sheath and declares “Death to America and Americans!”, black American guys working in those countries will only have to fear if they are dressed as American military or are in US designated vehicles. Otherwise, they are just thought to be local or foreign Muslims and are normally left alone. So, as you can see, this is a very interesting and multi-faceted phenomenon with many variations on a theme. One should be well aware of it and plan one’s driving, riding and walking accordingly. I still have not figured out how to plan for it, but find that just being aware of it will at least prepare you mentally. And ‘not’ speaking the local language always seems to help when you deal with the cops on the road.


Jossica M said...

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Jossica M said...
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