I learned about white privilege from the streets—not the classroom.
I learned about white privilege from the streets—not the classroom. My teachers were teenage criminals who spoke in plain, easily-accessible English (or French)—not jargon-laden academics with PhDs in sensitivity. The lessons I received from them were practical and experiential—not theoretical. And they made me pretty good at stealing stuff for a spell.
Like many bratty kids from Verdun, I went through a shoplifting phase when I was in my early teens. I’m not proud of this chapter in the story of my life, but, whatever, it is what it is. Anyhow, like many other social animals (such as wolves), my friends and I hunted in packs and employed a coördinated strategy that played upon the weaknesses of our prey. Our intended prey was the store staff; their racial prejudices were the weaknesses we exploited. We were four, more often than not, one black kid and three white kids. After carefully choosing a store, we’d enter it separately. The black kid would immediately attract all of the staff’s attention. It was amazing! The kid didn’t have to do anything suspicious. Didn’t have to smell like weed. Didn’t have to dress like a thugged-out rapper. Didn’t have to wear dark sunglasses. Nothing. He just had to be black. That was enough. The staff would be totally fixated on the black kid and follow him around the store while me and the other three white kids robbed the place blind. The four of us would meet up about an hour later—usually at a metro station—and divvy up the spoils. Incidentally, the dude who finally caught me (at Galeries d’Anjou)—and ended my brief shoplifting career—was a sweet, middle-aged Haitian guy. He caught me and my degenerate friends precisely because he wasn’t blinded by racism.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)
Originally published at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.
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Photo courtesy of author.