My White Privilege (and getting a driver’s license)


Eldest driving for the first time (no, this isn't his car).
Eldest driving for the first time (no, this isn’t his car).

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. – Romans 12:3 (NIV)

A couple of years ago, I attended an event featuring Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In addition to Alexander, there was also a panel discussion of the impacts of mass incarceration of African-Americans in Milwaukee.

During the panel discussion, one of the speakers brought up the need for driver’s education to be funded in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) stating, “In the suburbs, driving is a right. In MPS, driving is a privilege.” At the time, Eldest had just finished the classroom portion of driver’s ed. After that, I took him to get his temps, he completed behind the wheel, and then got his license when he turned 16.

Getting your driver’s license is a rite (right) of passage in the United States. Driving allows us new experiences through travel, creates freedom of movement and – especially for teenagers – expands our social life. There are more far-reaching benefits as well:

Opportunity. Entry-level jobs not requiring post-secondary education have largely left the urban area and moved to the suburbs. The suburbs, however, do not often have public transportation. A driver’s license represents the possibility of applying for and obtaining these jobs. I once talked with a homeless man who heard a company was hiring – only to find out it was in a suburb 25 miles from downtown. No bus, no car = no job.

Pride. Do you remember getting your driver’s license? It is a common rite of passage we all share. Or at least some of us do. Getting your driver’s license is a step towards adulthood and independence. This was a given for me when I was 16 and it is a given for my kids today. Should this be a privilege or a right?

Common Good. Knowing the rules of the road is beneficial to us individually and collectively. We are a society that drives; we should all know the rules. Even if a person does not get a driver’s license while a teenager, having the training will make her/him a better driver as an adult.


When I was 16, driver’s education was included in my public high school education. It was my right. I don’t remember that we paid anything extra for this, and if we did, it was nominal. Things have certainly changed. Here was my experience:

Driver’s Education             $ 375

In addition to this fee, we drove Eldest the ten miles to class (plus the return trip) for three weeks. For most people reading this, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But there is a lot of privilege that makes it happen.

First of all, we had $375 to spend on driver’s ed. The median household income in Milwaukee County is $43,485. The driver’s ed. fee is 10% of a household’s monthly pre-tax budget. The median household income in Ozaukee County (where I live, which immediately borders Milwaukee County to the north) is $75,643. The real impact is even greater for many urban families as 21% of Milwaukee County households lived below the poverty level (for a household of four, this was $23,050; a full-time minimum wage earns $15,080 per year).

We could have made Eldest ride his bike. However, he was taking driver’s ed. at the same time he was in football – sometimes for eight hours a day (another privilege since he didn’t need to work). But riding his bike to class also assumes that he has a bike to use. We don’t have public transport in the suburbs (we don’t even have sidewalks). If we lived in Milwaukee, it may have been possible for him to take public transportation. However, this would cost an additional $64 per month for a bus pass, if he didn’t already have one. And it may require more than one bus.

Finally, I was available to take him to driver’s ed. If I were a single parent, working in the evenings, working multiple jobs, on probation without a driver’s license, or didn’t have a car; this wouldn’t be an option. It also assumes that I had the money to purchase an extra tank of gas that month.

And this was just the first part. Eldest still needs to take behind the wheel for another two weeks after he has his temps.


Temporary Permit            $ 35

Getting the temporary permit requires proof of citizenship, name, birth date, and identity. For most 16 year-olds this will require a trip to the registrar or deeds in the city you were born to get a birth certificate if you don’t already have one. I happen to keep extra copies of the boys’ birth certificates – especially since we don’t live in the same state where Eldest was born. In Milwaukee County, a copy of your birth certificate costs $20. And the Registrar of Deeds is only open 8:00-4:30 Monday – Friday. If you can’t make it during the day, you can request the birth certificate by mail: but you must pay with a cashier’s check or money order.


Driver’s License            $ 28

To get to this point, the prospective driver will need to have completed an approved program (which included behind the wheel commencing no later than 60 days of having been issued the permit). Eldest will also need 30 hours of driving practice, of which 10 hours must be at night. This requires a car and the ability to purchase another tank of gas. It also requires that the student have an adult that has an available car, a driver’s license, and the time to supervise 30 hours of driving practice. It also assumes we have the $80 a month to pay the extra insurance (which is much-reduced given our driving record, zip code, and Eldest’s grades).

White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country. –

I ooze with White Privilege – getting and having a driver’s license is just one of the ways. Another way I practice my White Privilege is by choosing when and how I am concerned with racism in America. I do a pretty good job of using inclusive language but otherwise most of my work has been internal.

It’s been the increasing awareness of how far my White Privilege extends and the way it permeates my existence. It’s beginning to see and hear the world in way that conflicts with what I think I know – thus causing me to be uncomfortable. It’s believing that my ignorance / naiveté / apathy / pride / fear perpetuate institutional racism.

I can’t disown my White Privilege, but honestly I’m at a loss about what I do about it. Maybe I need to follow the same advice I give others when they are trying to discern God’s will for their lives: look around, pay attention to what God is doing, and then join in.

  • I can speak up when I hear others deny their White Privilege.
  • I can join people of color in advocating for systemic change.
  • Really, I can just talk about it so that it becomes part of the conversation and part of our consciousness.

At least this seems a good place to start.


God of all people, it is so easy to thank you for my blessings while not acknowledging that some have been received at great cost to others. Lord, you probably forgive my ignorance but I know I am culpable for my denial. I pray that you convict me and make clear where I am part of perpetuating the problem of social injustice, inequality and racism. I also pray that you guard me from saying words that drown out the silenced voices that need to be heard and taking actions that protect either my privilege or comfort. Let your justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Amen.

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2 Thoughts to “My White Privilege (and getting a driver’s license)”

  1. […] and interactions of our lives.  Those in the majority and with power will never be able to shed their privilege.  The question is what we do with it once we wake up and realize it […]

  2. Judy golding

    Thank you for having insights and being willing to share them! Consider coming to Alices garden Wednesday night to remember a few men who died at the hands of police.

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