The fact that I had to send in a statement along with proof that I paid for a bus ride with my unlimited-ride MetroCard one night because the officer lied to me when he said the MTA could look up my card if I called the office infuriated me enough. The fact that I had to get it notarized made me even more annoyed.
“I assume you’re telling the truth, but I need to ask–are you making an oath,” the notary at the bank said, “or am I just acknowledging your statement?” He gave me a knowing look like he was amused, like of course I was telling the truth, like why would I actually try to skip out on a $2.50 bus ride.
I stared at him. “Uh…it’s for a ticket that I’m pleading not guilty for, so probably an oath, right?”
He smiled, and stamped the paper.
I’m not saying anything’s wrong with the notary assuming I was telling the truth. I look innocent enough. I am white.
What I wonder is whether, if I were not white, he would have assumed I was telling the truth.
Because the thing is, as frustrating as this whole situation has been to me–the audacity of a city official suggesting a perpetual goody two-shoes was breaking the law–I realize it was really nothing in comparison to the things many of my fellow New Yorkers get in trouble for daily. The helplessness I felt while trying to convince the officer I had paid for my bus ticket is probably such a small fraction of what some others must feel while being stopped on the street for walking slowly or walking quickly or not walking. And I have to imagine most of them don’t get the automatic trust of a bank worker that I did.
I can never really know what it must feel like to go through life constantly scrutinized, continuously suspected of bad behavior, but this tiny blip on my otherwise slip-sliding journey down the easy street of being a white woman (we can get into how it’s still harder than being a white man another time) has reminded me of what many people aren’t given the luxury of forgetting: in our current world, being innocent until proven guilty is a privilege reserved for only some of us.