Flipping Cars Without a Care — the Apex of White Privilege
Nearly 1,000 White college students gathered to party in Columbus, Ohio. They came to celebrate the “Chitt Fest,” a series of spring block parties. But this year, their brand of fun included damaging property and flipping seven cars. When the police responded, the revelers seem unfazed and unbothered. Flipping cars without a care is the apex of White privilege.
The officers responded to the event from a distance. Using a megaphone, they said, “They’ll come down when it’s safe for them.” When it comes to confronting Black protesters, police seem to have the will of fire. Yet, when it comes to confronting White people, their demeanor changes. Even when students damaged property, the police didn’t give them a hard time. Those White students partied until they couldn’t party anymore. Police officers did not threaten them, though they did ask them to disperse. None of these students made it into cuffs or the back of a police car.
Before Black protesters take to the streets to protest racial inequality, officials prepare. They issue warnings and set curfews. “Everyone must remain calm and peaceful. We will have order.” These preemptive measures feed into a dangerous stereotype about Black people. Namely, they are more dangerous, noncompliant, and wreckless than White people. The irony isn’t lost on me that when White students refused to leave the party, police didn’t force them.
Officers handle noncompliance differently when citizens are White. They have the privilege to ignore the police yelling on the megaphone to go home. In the end, there are no consequences, so why not let the cops yell till they're blue in the face?
White privilege is like Captain America’s shield, seemingly impenetrable. While this superhero uses his tool to help others, these students used their White privilege to tear up a neighborhood. Lady justice is blind, but police officers clearly saw what those students did. And yet, they handled them with kid gloves. White privilege becomes obvious when officers passively police White people while bringing down the hammer on Black people.
On Bloody Sunday, officers used billy clubs and tear gas to attack Black leaders fighting for voting rights. They made a habit of using water hoses to injure and strike fear in protesters. In the modern era, officers often use rubber bullets against Black protesters. One Black woman, a Black Lives Matter protester, lost an eye last May because of this tactic.
White college students didn’t have to run from hoses, batons, or rubber bullets. They had fun, and even when they exhibited reckless behavior, nothing happened to them. Getting the cars right side up, cleaning up, or making amends with neighbors would have been a start in the right direction. Instead, they scattered when they had their fill. The Chitt Fest became another case study added to the deep reservoir of White privilege.
To put it simply: If you are white and angry you get away with untold crimes, but if you are Black and show a sentiment of anxiety, if you protest for basic human rights, you are demonised. (OBASI, 2021)
There’s just no way Black protesters could flip cars, damage property, and walk away unscathed. Could you imagine 1,000 HBCU students trashing a neighborhood this way? Let’s keep it real. White students flipped those cars to flex their privilege. They felt comfortable the police would never hurt them. Worst-case scenario, they would have to answer to their parents. But that’s the scenario Black parents hope to get.
White privilege is the antithesis of equality. It sets a precedent for Black people to live cautiously, and White people can throw caution to the wind. In New Orleans, people party and drink all the time. Locals host block parties throughout the year. You can find loud music any night of the week, at least you could before Covid-19. Yet, people don’t flip cars just because they get tipsy. I worked in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras and never saw anyone flip a car. That’s amazing given it’s known as one of the wildest parties in the world. These students cut up because they knew no consequences awaited them behind door one. This is reminiscent of the “Stop the Steal” march-turned-insurrection.
White privilege works on two different levels. On one level, White privilege shields White people from the harsh treatment Black people receive. White people do not have to live in fear of police brutality, for example. This privilege is passive and does not require any action by the individual who benefits. On another level, White people can abuse their White privilege. When they do, they test the limits of what’s socially acceptable.
If you’ve ever played Monopoly, you remember the “get out of jail free” card. Everybody wanted this card because it created a buffer between the player and the jailhouse. In the same way, White privilege can shield White people from responsibility. When White people fail to hold other White people accountable, they uphold White supremacy. White privilege is a side effect of America’s underlying illness.
Officers should always show restraint whenever possible. But, they shouldn’t give preferential treatment to White or affluent people. That type of disparity taints the well. If violent tactics are necessary when crowds get rowdy, why doesn’t this apply to white crowds?
White privilege sits at the heart of racial injustice. (OBASI, 2021)
As Americans try to reimagine what public safety can become, it’s important to take the rose-colored glasses off. Those students flipped cars without a care because they know society holds White people to a different standard of behavior. In the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s conviction, Black communities are demanding change. Black people don’t want special treatment, just to be treated fairly.
Utilizing White privilege means never having to say you’re sorry or fearing consequences for your actions. White students flipping cars without care demonstrated how law enforcement helps to facilitate inequality.
White privilege should not be a shield for reckless behavior, yet it is. Only when America’s justice system treats people equally can America live up to its founding principles. While no one knows for sure what the future of policing will look like, our imagination should make room for accountability.
Lantern staff. (2021, April 20). “More than a thousand students rave on Chittenden, flip cars, no arrests.” The Lantern. https://www.thelantern.com/2021/04/more-than-a-thousand-students-rave-on-chittenden-flip-cars-no-arrests/.
OBASI, C. H. I. D. O. Z. I. E. (2021, February 1). “What happened at the Capitol shows white privilege in plain view.” Harper’s BAZAAR. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/culture/a35148638/what-happened-at-capitol-shows-white-privilege/.