FROM WIKI: White privilege is a sociological concept that describes advantages purportedly enjoyed by white persons beyond that which is commonly experienced by non-white people in those same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). It differs from racism or prejudice in that a person benefiting from white privilege may not necessarily hold racist beliefs or prejudices themselves. Often, the person benefiting is unaware of his or her supposed privilege.

Today I escorted my sixty-six year-old mother to the Department of Public Safety in Waco. Having recently moved from Southern California to Central Texas, she sought to obtain an in-state driver's license. However, our ostensibly mundane mission proved surprisingly impossible. My mom ran into a bureaucratic buzz saw--and the buzz saw won.

What happened?

Texas DPS requires proof of identification in order to issue a Texas Driver's License, of course. We wouldn't have it any other way. For the three-tiered system of verification, see this link.

How my mom ran afoul of the system:

She has a Texas birth certificate issued in Marlin, Texas, circa 1942. She has a social security card re-issued by the feds circa 1990. She has a current California driver's license issued circa 2004. She has numerous credit cards, insurance cards, medicare cards, prescription drug cards, local utility bills, newly issued car registration from the state of Texas, myriad local homeowner documents, and proof of a relationship with a Waco bank. But her 1942 birth certificate did not anticipate her subsequent name changes (she has been married twice). To further complicate things, she dropped her given "first name" decades ago. These inconsistencies make the state of Texas very suspicious.

Bottom Line: unless she has her name legally changed (birth certificate amended) and/or brings in her two marriage licenses and certificate of divorce, the Lone Star State cannot sanction her as a legal Texas driver.

As I was unexpectedly drawn into this tawdry drama at the counter of the local DPS, a slow realization came over me: we were not in Kansas (or even Texas) anymore. In a very short time, our way of life has changed dramatically. We have crossed over into a brave new world in which regulations trump common sense, community, and, more importantly, consanguinity. As I attempted to explain to Ms. (let's call her) Ramirez and Trooper (let's call him) Gonzales that my mom was "okay," it occurred to me that the old days of sixty-six year-old white grandmothers automatically getting the benefit of the doubt were fading fast.

This is not a new observation. We have seen and heard the jokes about nuns being "frisked" at the airport while Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden look-a-likes stride past security checkpoints undeterred. To be fair, we are told, we have to be random. If we don't frisk the grandmas, we are racial profiling. But in Waco, Texas? Do we have to be this unreasonable and uncompromising in this venue?

Ms. Ramirez and Trooper Gonzales assured us that these procedures existed for our own protection. Although I can tell you that those sentiments did not sooth our pique.

Of course, the ID regulations are a product of the post-September-11th world. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: May the Terrorists Burn in Hell!!!

But there is more to this anecdote than just anti-terrorism. This is zero tolerance. And zero tolerance is the opposite of (perhaps even the antidote to) white privilege. How can you combat white privilege? Make all men (and grandmothers) exactly equal before an entirely heartless bureaucracy. "Come on. You know us. It's okay." What am I really saying? Come on. We're white and upstanding. We're okay. No dice. Not anymore.

Evidently, white privilege does not go very far these days. Is that a good thing? Undoubtedly, many of us are reading this right now and applauding, saying that white privilege needs to go. And, almost certainly, many of us are reading this right now denying that white privilege even exists.

An Aside: white privilege does exist. Believe me. Not just white privilege--but white entitlement. We were very angry. We were hurt. We felt extremely mistreated. We deserved some consideration--but, instead, we received a cold-blooded ruling based on a lifeless code of rules and regulations. And, quite frankly, right or wrong, fair or unfair, we suspected that Trooper Gonzales may have enjoyed exercising his power over us to make our lives less convenient.

In truth, over time, millions of persons of color (and plenty of others of just plain low means) have faced the same frustration and humiliation that we encountered today. Tonight, my heart goes out to them more than ever.

On the other hand, treating us all like a subhuman species of non-verified potential criminals cannot be the only answer. Somewhere between white privilege and zero tolerance there has to be some middle ground. It was abundantly clear to any rational observer that my mom was not Muhammad Atta. Somebody ought to have the courage to look at her ten pieces of ID (even when none of them conform exactly to the prescribed code), and make a humane common sense decision.

What's more, we really did deserve some consideration. Not because we are white, but because my mom has spent sixty-six years following the rules and establishing herself as a model citizen. Her son teaches at the community college. Her daughter-in-law works for the local university. Her brother works for the county. We are good folks and assets to the community. We deserve the benefit of the doubt.

We need to figure out a way to get this right. Discrimination based on race was an abomination. Erasing discrimination based on common sense and merit is a foolish policy that will eventually destroy the fabric of our society.

Good citizenship ought to have its privileges.