The hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite surfaced on Wednesday in response to a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a Staten Island police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner by illegal chokehold. White people of Twitter collectively used the platform to regale their followers with stories about how they managed to evade arrests and charges for past crimes, signaling an awareness of their privilege.
#CrimingWhileWhite not only became a worldwide trending topic, but was later referred to as a “mind-blowing” exposure of the privilege to be white in America by mainstream media outlets. The problem with that assertion is that People of Color (POC) have been saying this for decades.
By no means is the inherent institutional racism of our criminal justice system groundbreaking. The targeting, harassment and abuse of POC by law enforcement have been perpetual sources of scrutiny in public debates, academia, and all avenues of entertainment.
I can’t count the number of jokes made by Black comedians about the implied safety of having a white friend in the car while out on the town (truthfully there was never a need to count because the topic has never been irrelevant). A number can’t be placed on the amount of published studies displaying the disproportional rates of arrests of whites versus those of POC – the most recent one I read about was published two weeks ago.
We’re perfectly aware that whiteness is associated with innocence while anti-Blackness promotes the criminalization of Black bodies. The racism that we face also gave way to the voices of white people being lauded for a “realization” declared long ago. Ignoring the voices of POC is a form of erasure that invalidates the testimonies of those who have actually suffered from the harmful acts carried out by our criminal justice system, and this erasure is a form of violence.
#CrimingWhileWhite is simultaneously a large-scale recognition and display of privilege. The reality is, acknowledging privilege is not enough, and taking a celebratory bow for a moment of enlightenment doesn’t better our circumstances while POC are being told that their lives and testimonies don’t matter.
The lived experiences of POC are continuously questioned while those of white people are note-worthy. It is a blatant disregard for our humanity. Until POC are centered in the conversations surrounding problems that only we experience firsthand, displays of allyship will continue to be problematic at best.