Mimetalker's Blog

a mime is a terrible thing to waste.


Illinois, USA
January 26
On this blog: All words (other than identified quotations) © Sharon Nesbit-Davis, All rights reserved. *********************************** ********************************** You can find me on Facebook: Sharon Nesbit-Daivs, or "The Mime Writes" Logo Design by Dianaani ********************************** I work as the Education & Community Engagement Director of a Regional Arts Council which means I beg "the deciders" to fund and support the arts for everyone, not just the rich. *********************************** I am also a mime. For those that hate mimes, I understand. But you'll never find me annoying people on the street, unless I'm living there. I'm a "concert mime" ...which means you have to buy a ticket. I haven't done much mime lately...I'd rather be writing. *********************************** I've been married to my one and only since 1976. Still happy. Still in love. Two kids, eight grandkids. In college I became a Baha'i (a world religion whose main theme is unity). It keeps me relatively sane in a world gone mad.


MAY 7, 2012 9:57AM

Driving White

Rate: 20 Flag

I think I was arrested, but it was confusing. The police never said those words or put me in handcuffs. Maybe they thought it could set off a riot. People were in the street, circling around the cars and yelling. If I hadn’t been so scared, I might have enjoyed it. The cops told everyone to go home, but they got in cars and followed. At the station they packed the small waiting area. Someone began singing “We Shall Overcome.” A few were friends, but most were not. I was surprised they cared so much about someone they didn't know. Later I understood this was entertainment: white girl arrested for driving in "black town". 


My parents bought a new car every ten years and this time, instead of trading in the old one, they kept it for us kids to drive.  With my older brothers away at college, the ’57 pink Pontiac was mine. Among my friends, I was the only one with a car and money for gas. I didn’t have a job, but I got an allowance. My friends thought I was joking when I told them that. “White people spoil their kids”. I didn’t argue the point. My last group of friends were the definition of spoiled. Their allowance was ten times mine and they drove new cars. They weren’t speaking to me anymore, except to yell names at me. 


We had gone to a basketball game and I had a full car. My passengers were all girls because I promised my mother I would not give rides to boys. I didn’t like that, but I wanted the car. 


When I got to Natalie’s house, the cops pulled up behind me.  I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I felt sick and scared and wondered how long my parents would ground me this time. The policeman asked for my license but I couldn’t find it. “I brought the wrong purse. It’s at home.” The officer said to get out of the car, slowly. That’s when I started to cry.


Natalie’s mother was already there yelling at the cop. “This is a nice girl.” She got close to his face, hands on hips, spit talking, “She isn’t what you think she is.” He ignored her, opened the back door of the squad car and ordered me to get in. Without asking, she jumped in the other side. Natalie’s mom, who had watched me play cards, and dance with her daughters in her living room, had never spoken to me. Now she patted my hand. “Stop your crying, girl. I’m not gonna let them do nothing to you.” 


My mother didn’t know who called, but the woman scared the hell out of her. “Your girl was arrested. The cops took her off to jail.” My father was at a meeting and she was without a car, so somebody came to get her. She didn’t say much about that except it was the most terrifying ride of her life.


The police brought my mother to the room where Natalie’s mother and I waited.  Mom’s neck had red blotches and her voice trembled. Natalie’s mother said she would leave when my mother came, but she stayed.


The policeman asked my mother if I had permission to drive her car. She nodded. 


“Did you know where your daughter was tonight?”  


She looked at me. “You were supposed to be at the game.”


“I was, and then I drove the girls home.”


Mom nodded to the officer. “Yes, I knew she was doing that.”


Natalie's mother laughed. 


The officer excused himself and left the room. I introduced my mother to Natalie’s mom.  She described the whole scenario but didn’t tell mom I cried. She lied. “You’ve got a brave daughter here.” My mother smiled, but it was her polite smile. She was too angry to understand what Natalie's mom was saying.


The cop came back with my car keys and court date papers. "You can take her home."


Friends gave us a ride back to my car.  They all had stories of first time arrests. They made the stories sound funny even though they weren't. We laughed, but my mother was horrified.


Alone in our car I said, “I can’t believe this happened. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” She screamed, “Nothing wrong??!!! YOU DID NOTHING WRONG??? POLICE DON’T ARREST PEOPLE FOR NOTHING.” Her hands gripped the steering wheel. “Do you have any idea how humiliating this is? What will the neighbors think?” I turned away to hide my rolling eyes. 


My father came home and listened to my mother’s ranting, and my defense. He read over the court order. The only charge was driving without a license. He was mad, but not at me.  “All they had to do was look up the records.”  


The next day at school kids expressed their outrage and ask when the court date was. They promised to be there. A black student activist said this was an opportunity to expose racist attitudes of the cops. Witnesses for me, could cite their own experiences. My parents hadn’t let me go South for the Freedom Rides, but I could do this.


That night at dinner my father said he called a judge who was a friend of a friend. “You had twenty-four hours to produce your license. The police over-reacted.” 


“Good. In court we’re going to show how racist they are. They’ve done worse things to my friends.”  


My father shook his head. “You’re not going to court. The Judge told them to drop the charges.”  I acted upset, but felt relieved. As brave as I wanted to be, I was only courageous in my fantasies. Real life had not demanded it from me.


Telling my friends made me feel very white and privileged. They teased and I didn’t have a good come-back. “Will your Daddy to adopt us?” I apologized to the student activist, but he shrugged me off. “It’s not your problem.”


Thirty years later I came home and told my husband it was my lucky day. A cop pulled me over and said I was going 45 in a 30 mph zone, ran through a stop sign, and did not come to a complete stop at the light. "Can you believe it? He let me off with a warning!" My husband, who has been stopped numerous times for doing nothing but driving in his own brown skin, shook his head, “Honey, you’re not lucky. You’re white.”


I was embarrassed at my naivety and wanted to find the cop to demand he arrest me. That would have been dumb. My husband and I share income and bills. White privilege saved us both 300 bucks. 











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I immediately emailed your article to my friend who insists that Blacks "have to be doing something wrong" to get stopped by the police. Yesterday her son, driving in a caravan of about seven cars, all white drivers but him, was stopped and arrested for no discernible reason. Some people just don't believe these stories until it happens to them.

Thanks for sharing your experience.
Sharon, I wish everybody had your courage, your wisdom, sense of humor and writing ability...well, then again not so sure about that last. I'd never be able to keep up with my reading here.
One night in a crosswalk on Hollywood Boulevard, I got mad dog stared down by two LAPD cops in their squad car... my suspicious activity was walking with a beautiful Japanese twenty-something dressed in thigh high boots and an ultraviolet urethane micro-mini... we were half way up the block before I figured it out. The cops pegged us for a hooker and her john... it was my white hair that aroused their suspicion of possible criminal intent... walking while old!

Cops profile in all kinds of ways... sometimes it's personal, sometimes it just part of the job.
Love your writing. You really brought both times to life.
Wow. Driving while white.
I'm with Fay. It really helps to have corroboration from someone like you as we try to get the white community (and some in the black community) what being black or brown in America is really like.

Driving while white - funny! But not really...
Thank you so very much.
Very nice piece. White privilege can manifest in so many ways, including getting pulled over and punished for being in the wrong part of town.
oh no ya dont wanna be arrested, for christ's sake.
i have been arrested numerous times,for crimes mostly against
my self...my white priveleged self...i suspect i am even whiter than
u..i am english scottish & GERMAN...also a bit of irish...

ha:"entertainment: white girl arrested for driving in "black town". "
cool statement u made.
mom says what MY mom said, always:
"they do not arrest you for nothing"...

well sure they do, i might have argued. the blacks! the puerto ricans!

"ah, you are not one of them..."


no i am not, but i like their company. better than my fellow
lily-whites..serious RHYTHM disorder (from angst)
we honkies got, that is for sure..sorry to be
racist on this nice blog of yours..ha..

thank heavens i developed some freaking rhythm.

natalie's mom is my vote for mom of the century?!
When I first moved here after landing a great job at a theme park, I was driving in my beat up Honda Civic through the "wealthy" part of town looking for a place to rent in someone's carriage house or above a garage and got popped by the local Barney Fife. I showed him my newly minted ID from work and told him what I was doing. "Sweetheart, you couldn't afford a a thing here." And he just turned me around, followed me to the town border and waved me off. I guess I was "driving while poor."
I almost got arrested once in Milwaukee for driving through a red light on my bicycle at midnight. I kid you not. It was 1981 and I hadn't registered my bike and smart-talked the cop, said why wasn't he out looking for rapists and murderers. When he threatened to take me in, I switched to demure and promised to register my bike.
I keep wanting to think we're past that, and I'm sure that some officers are, but not all of them by a long shot and until then "driving white" is indeed a undeserved privilege. Trayvon Martin comes to mind. Walking with skittles. A white boy would not be dead. Everyone knows that.
This was so, so interesting and poignant. Perfectly told - I have nothing to say, besides, of course, my horror at things being this way.
thank you all for stopping by to read and comment. I appreciate them and YOU. Sometimes I feel discouraged, wondering when we will ever get it together. But overall I am hopeful and believe we can and will recognize that there is only one human race and many of our problems will be resolved when we act on that knowledge.
Ah, yes indeed: "What will the neighbors think?" I, too, was raised with that maternal mantra. You deserve respect and sympathy, not criticism. But life is not fair. I have a longtime white friend who also married a black man. Living in New York, it hasn't been a problem, as far as I know. But once she and I were in Central Park with our kids, and her daughter needed to go to bathroom. My friend stayed with our sons while I took her daughter by the hand and walked to our destination. I'll never forget how visible I suddenly became. People did not look at us with hostility, but, boy, did everyone look at us. With my white son, I was invisible. I hope things have changed a lot.