White Privilege Ran Into Our Car Today
The weather in Plett has been absolutely gorgeous, and if you follow us on Instagram, no doubt you’ve been diverted by the pictures of brilliant blue skies, the ocean’s sapphire surf and the majestic mountains all around us. Today, however, the temperatures dropped dramatically and we were forced to stay inside. Marshall had to go into town to get some bank transfer stuff sorted out (a process that he has logged 56 hours trying to complete) and was gone for the majority of the morning. At around 2 pm, he came back looking both triumphant and dejected.
“I got the bank account set up today,” he said sullenly.
I didn’t raise my eyes from my phone screen when I replied. “Great! Congratulations!”
“I also got into a fender bender today.”
Now my attention was solely fixed on my husband’s stiff, marbled countenance.
“Yeah. I was at a stop in town waiting for some car to turn and this dude came flying down the street and hit me.”
“Did you call the police?”
“Did you exchange insurance information?”
“He didn’t have insurance.”
“Well, did you get pictures of his face, car and license plate???”
“No! I was just too pissed off to do any of that but yell that he’d be paying for the damages! I don’t know how this kind of stuff works here in South Africa! …All I got was his card with his cell phone number on it.”
Marshall was curt and his tone sharp. We’ve had this car for less than a month, and within 2 weeks of Marshall’s re-entry into the country, THIS happens. I looked at the business card Marshall had been given and groaned inwardly.
Crop duster| Musician| Motivational speaker*
The guy who hit him was some white surfer kid who played the guitar for a living. Without even meeting this guy, I knew that he was probably the embodiment of every beach town cliché I’d seen on Disney channel or the CW.
I could see why he was so upset. And so, as he’s done so many times for me in the past, I tried to be the voice of logic and linear progression when emotions have gotten the better of me as they’d just done him. I suggested that we call the insurance company, which we did. Their response didn’t make sense.
“So you’re telling me that I have to pay a R1000 penalty for filing a claim for an accident I didn’t cause AND my insurance policy gets dinged for filing said claim?”
“Yes,” said the agent.
Marshall rubbed his temples. I rubbed his back. This is Africa, I mouthed at him. He smiled wryly in response and told the agent he had no interest in filing the claim. Option 2 was to work things out with Brock – I mean BEN – and have him pay for the damages out of pocket as he said he would at the scene of the accident.
We went down to Erasmus Panel Beaters in the industrial district in town and got a quote for the repairs. The entire back bumper needed to be replaced. The impact of the Ben’s car had damaged the sensors in the lift gate. Now, there’s some funky light in the car that stays on, perpetually. The quote to repair the damage came to R5800 ($384). We called Ben with the estimate since it had been decided that having him pay put of pocket for the damage he’d caused rather than penalizing ourselves for the event was the way to go. I couldn’t believe my ears when he answered the phone.
“Yeah…you know, after I went home and thought about it, I’ve decided I’m not going to pay for the damages. I feel like we both bear mutual responsibility for the crash.”
Marshall was having none of that.
“We don’t bear ‘mutual responsibility’. You hit ME.”
“Yes, as I said WE were in an accident…”
“…that YOU caused!”
“Mate, at least your car came out better than mine! You only have a few scratches on your bumper. My whole front end is crushed!”
“That’s not my problem. Because either one of two things happened when you hit me: Either you were tailgating me, or you weren’t paying attention and didn’t give yourself enough time to stop when you slammed into me. Either way, you weren’t maintaining a safe distance and therefore are liable for the accident!”
“We were in the middle of town! Who maintains a ‘safe distance’ when they’re driving in town?”
What? Who WAS this guy? And what was wrong with him? I listened to the conversation with growing irritation.
“Also, you literally went to the most expensive repair shop in town. I don’t have R5000 to give you.”
“You’re not going to be giving it to me, you’re going to give it to Erasmus Panel Beaters,” Marshall said with as much patience as he could muster.
Ben eventually conceded that he might consider paying for the damages, if it was for about R1000.
“I was going to have a mate of mine fix my entire car for about that much. Why is yours so expensive?” Ben was incredulous. Poor, silly, uninsured man.
Marshall read down the list of damages for Ben’s benefit, which included the sensors for the lift gate.
“Sensors? What sensors? Why do the ‘sensors’ need to be replaced?”
Because you hit a 2005 Chrysler Town & Country, not a 1988 Hyundai Kuntash, you ninny! I wanted to scream.
Finally, I’d had enough. I went into the repair shop and asked for the number to the police station, leaving my husband to yell threats about a lawsuit and Ben’s gallant attempt to appear unshaken by informing my husband that he ‘would not be intimidated by him’.
“Furthermore, you stopped suddenly and then I hit you,” Ben said with more conviction than the fable deserved, lying through what were probably perfect little teeth, probably courtesy of some equally irresponsible parent who’d reared him into the irresponsible prat that he is today.
“It doesn’t matter,” Marshall growled. “The burden of responsibility still lies with you to maintain a safe distance since you were driving behind me.”
The very notion was lost on Ben, who wondered aloud why Marshall was being such a hard nose about all of this.
“Don’t you have insurance? They can pay for all this!”
“Dude, why don’t YOU have insurance?”
Ben thought about it for brief moment and informed Marshall that the fact that he didn’t have insurance was irrelevant. HE had insurance, his company could pay for the damages that he (Ben) had caused, and that really should be the end of it.
I was stunned.
For the past several days, the reality and power of white male privilege has been inculcated in us through the headlines. Brock Turner receiving 6 months for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Oscar Pistorius walking around on his stumps with the aim of inciting sympathy after murdering Reeva Steenkamp. Robert H. Richards IV, the Du Pont heir who raped his 3 year old daughter and was spared any prison time at all because he “would not fare well there” according to the judge who should have thrown him under the jail. The list of atrocities and petty crimes alike that privileged white men are permitted to get away with – incidences that have sent men of color to prison for life in some cases – is exhaustive and exhausting. It dates back to Alexander the Great. In many of these cases, there is a single thread that stands out in the sordid patchwork of impunity: A blatant lack of remorse. An unashamed refusal to accept responsibility to accept blame for their wrongdoings. An unsettling need to place blame for the atrocity on the person they have victimized.
It’s one thing to inspect this cultural phenomenon as a casual observer from the safety of your newspaper or electronic device…and it’s quite another to have white privilege slam into you on a rainy weekend. I still haven’t recovered.
*Not Ben’s real surname or his profession. I thought about releasing it in hopes that the publicity could lead him to some new gigs, but we saw him at a restaurant in town the night of the accident, so he’s probably doing just fine on the local circuit.