I Joked About My Husband’s White Privilege
Until it wasn’t funny.
Pak’s Alterations squatted third from the corner, one of a handful of tiny businesses that butted up against each other, along the block. A rare books shop, a used-record store, a juice bar. Their doors opened right onto the sidewalk, hand-lettered signs on cardboard stuck in the windows. Curbside customer parking provided, except for a yellow loading zone at one end.
My white husband pulled up at the curb to drop me off in front of Pak’s. He grabbed his phone. “I’ll wait in the car.”
He’d stopped in the yellow. Maybe he hadn’t noticed. Hand on the door handle, I weighed the balance between being a back-seat driver and saving him from a ticket. “Honey, you’re still in the yellow.”
Open legal parking spaces stretched from his front bumper to the other end of the block.
“It’s fine,” he said.
“But the parking space is right there.” I gestured toward the windshield like a flight attendant pointing out the emergency exits. “Right. There.”
“It’ll be fine.”
He was right. And we both knew why. And we both knew it would not be fine for me to park in the yellow. Our different realities, brought to you by 400 years of American history, collided on the front seat of my Honda. The potential consequences of me parking illegally were too serious to take seriously.
The situation required stand-up comic mode. I poked him. “Yeah, you know why it’s fine?” I poked him again. “You’re white.”
He laughed so hard he dropped the phone, then raised his hands in the universal duh. “Of course.”
We sat there, having a good guffaw at the juxtaposition of absurdity and danger.
Having gotten my laugh payoff, I grabbed my pile of clothes. Halfway out of the car, I could see its exact position. Fake (but real) outrage threatened to blow up my head. “You’ve only got one wheel in the legal parking.”
As it always does, when he knows he’s full of it, his Oakie drawl kicked in. “Have a little sympathy, woman. If you come back, and I’m not here, it’s because they took me to jail, and I had to raise bail to get out.”
“No, if the cops come while you’re here, they’ll tap gently on the window. And say, Sir. Are you okay? I thought maybe you had a heart attack and pulled over here in an emergency.”
I tried to walk the three paces to Pak’s door, but the joke pulled me back in. “They’ll probably say, Sir, let me call your wife for you.”
Oh yeah, that was the perfect punchline. Nope. Another step closer to the shop, I turned and gave him my Negress head waggle. “If you’re not here when I get back, it’s because you and the cops have gone to have donuts together.”
There. He was snort-laughing.
After I dropped off my clothes, we took off on the rest of our errands. At the end of the block, we rounded the corner.
Ben spotted them first. “They’ve got somebody in cuffs over there.”
Policemen had pulled over a car and pulled the driver out. They were handcuffing him.
I said, “And look what color he is.”
The scene delivered the punchline to our shtick, but neither of us laughed.