Driving While White

I remember one encounter with the police during my first year in the US. I had managed to buy an old yellow Honda Civic the size of a large egg that nevertheless featured a very peppy engine for its age. 

After attending a Christmas party I drove back home through the Berkeley hills. When I found myself on a nice recently paved windy road I could not help but drive as fast as the laws of physics allowed. 

Soon I noticed lights in my rear view mirror. I stopped to the side of the road as a CHP officer approached me. 

– Do you know why I stopped you?
– Yes, officer I was speeding
– Do you know what the speed limit on this road is?
– Yes, officer it is 25 miles per hour
– Do you know how fast you were going?
– Between 35 and 50 miles per hour depending on the section of the road

At that point he was stumped so I offered my insurance card and my Italian driver license as I was still in the process of obtaining a US driver license. He looked at the license and said – Ah, this is the driver’s license that gives you permission to drive like a maniac! I spent five years in Rome…

After some short banter he let me go without a ticket. 

The confidence and sense of safety I felt during that interaction and the outcome were part of my unseen White privilege. Looking back at that episode now I shudder thinking how it would have turned out had I been a young Black male instead.

So what is my inheritance?

I am the inheritor of a large amount of privilege – white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege. I received a world-class education in the second oldest European university for free. I was supported financially by my parents throughout my long education. I received a Fulbright scholarship to study at UC Berkeley. I worked in finance for most of my career. I was fortunate to develop early on a sense of enough which allowed me to leave the finance industry in 2009 and devote myself to the Great Turning full time since then. (The Great Turning is the shift in society and all its institutions necessary to bring about a socially just, environmentally regenerative and spiritually fulfilling human presence on planet Earth). I was able to live in the San Francisco Bay Area thanks to Berkeley’s rent control ordinance. Last but not least I am growing my own veggies in the community garden across the street from my house.

RS – Reflections on the concept of enough

Looking at my own experience of finding enough it seems to me the result of a confluence of both societal and personal circumstances.

On a personal level I believe a sense of enough can be developed by the cultivation of both gratitude and generosity. Another useful practice is noticing what have been the most meaningful events of each week and finding out  that most of them involved connections with others or experiences in nature and required no money at all.

One of the obstacles to developing a sense of enough might be a sense of lack, of not being enough or by some deprivation early on in life – maybe unloving or unavailable parents or economic scarcity. I was fortunate not to experience either early on in life.

I also feel that prioritizing personal freedom, time and the ability to direct my own life over social status, approval from others or conforming to given social norms has given me the ability to find enough.

Case in point, when I was working for an investment management firm about a 15 years ago, the colleagues in the office were taking turns hosting the office holiday party at their house – most of them owned posh villas and mansions around the San Francisco bay area. When it came my turn I let them know I could not host such party since I was renting a 600sq. ft. cottage in Berkeley (where I still live now). Rather than feeling bad I felt proud of my choices. I could have “kept up with the Johnses” at the time but preferred to live simply and buy myself the luxury of time I have been enjoying since leaving that firm a decade ago.

On a societal level, I was fortunate to grow up in Italy where high quality education as well as access to free healthcare was available to all and paid by the government. Btw, the US points to Europe and its scourge of high taxes without realizing that once you factor in healthcare and education Europeans end up paying less overall while providing education and health care to all. I can see how developing a sense of enough  might be challenging in a society that does not provide education and health care to all its citizens instead asking individuals to shoulder the burden of overpriced medical care and education. If dealing with cancer without health insurance can set you back a few million $ how can the 99% feel they have enough?

As I was writing this I was reminded of Gandhi’s quote that civilization was the art of voluntary renunciation to give up something so that there will be enough for everybody’s needs but not for everybody’s greed.

Our task is to civilize the US 😊

Published by Marco Vangelisti

Marco Vangelisti is a 100% impact investors dedicated to shifting financial capital from Wall Street and the extractive economy towards building the world we want. He helps individual investors, family foundations and financial advisers move towards aware and no-harm investing.

One thought on “Driving While White

  1. Marco, enjoyed this read and was intrigued by your comment near the end that you had ‘developed a sense of enough’. We talk a lot about that within our work. How do you think that developed within you? Is it related to how you were raised or experiences you encountered?

    In our work at The Industrial Commons we are pushing the cooperatives we work with to think beyond “worker owners” and to think of themselves as “stewards”. Yes, the goal of a co-op can be met, to make an important shift, rather than one owner amassing all the wealth, there are many owners benefiting BUT we want worker-owners in the co-ops we hep launch and incubate to think beyond that to a form of stewardship. The real true end goal is that those worker-owners have “enough” and then they look to pass it on, create the next co-op, create a job for someone else.

    This theory is deeply ingrained in the basic principles of cooperatives – but how do you teach it to someone and make them believe it and feel it in their heart?


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