Dept. of Alternative Facts: Sleeping While White

to sleep (v) a state of unconscious rest


When I read the local papers court reports, I notice a trend in the pattern of arrests of many suspects: the police/sheriff notice some small infraction (break light is out, 5 MPH over the speed limit, passenger does not have seat belt on, etc.) pull over a vehicle, conduct a search and find some larger crime (felony parolee possessing a hand gun, meth or heroin in the trunk, intoxicated driver, etc.). I’m sure some just turn out to be drivers who need to have a warning to get the tail light fixed. But, the general premise is that a small infraction may lead to a large infraction. Now that is fine when an actual public risk is thwarted. But, I have also heard the phrase “Driving while Black” as a small infraction for which people of color might be pulled over, then situations go awry.

Act I

I have a 60 mile commute. Most of this is on two-lane country roads, which I enjoy immensely. But, after getting up at 5 a.m. commuting in, working a 9 hour day, the drive home can see a bit long. I’ve tried having a cup of coffee… snacks…jamming with some tunes… but, about 45 minutes into the drive, some nights when I am alone, I get to a small town and am ready to doze off.

This rural community has a wide, gravel parking area with a couple of defunct businesses. For years, it has been a good place to pull off, recline my seat, and take a 5 or 10 minute power nap. Then, I am good to go for the rest of the drive home.

I have been a bit worried with the opioid crisis of the past few years, that someone might see me there, call 911, and the sheriff or rescue squad would be about to hit me with Narcan before I woke up. So far, I have been let be. I’m white.

Act II

A young friend tells about going to stadium style concerts. After several bands and several beers, as the concert lets out, he decides to recline his car seat and sleep off his buzz. The parking lot will take over an hour to clear out anyway. Why sit there idling and dozing, when he could get a good nap instead. He has his speech ready, in case he should sleep a bit longer and wake up to an empty parking lot with security checking him out. He just wants to wake up sober and drive home without traffic. As far as I know, he as been left alone. He’s white.


A few theatre seasons back, we are driving home about 11:30 on the same rural road that I described before. I got my power nap while The Mrs drove the first 45 minutes. I up and running fine. I am driving about 50 MPH, 5 MPH below the posted speed limit, because I have seen several deer standing on the side of the road. Other vehicles, less cautious and used to driving 60 MPH have passed me at appropriate passing zones.

Then this guy start tail-gating me. A passing zone comes along. I shift to the right to let him by. He stays there. The double-yellow line returns. I shift to the center of the lane. A couple more passing zones come and go. He will not pass, nor back down.

The blue lights come on. I pull over at a wide shoulder near the Pentecostal church. The sheriff’s deputy comes up to check on me. “Sir, I hate to trouble you, but I noticed that you have been drifting in the lane for several miles… I wanted to be sure that you are safe…Where are you headed…Have you had anything to drink.” All reasonable questions. “Thank you officer… I live about 5 miles up the road… Yes, I had one hard cider before the theatre at about 7 p.m. I finished it before 7:30. It is now 11:30, so I doubt that it should be an issue.” We exchange official information. I ask why he was following me so close. He could not tell whether my license plate had a “5” or an “S”. I explain that when I learned to drive, if someone wanted to pass you, they followed you closely, then when a passing zone come along, you moved to the right to signal that you would let them pass. Reasonable misunderstandings, on both sides. We say goodnight and head on our way. I’m white.

Act IV

An elderly relative, used to advise that if a burglar were climbing through your window, you should A) shoot him in the front, and B) if he fell out the window, go outside, push him back inside, and C) call the police. Then you could claim self-defense because the bullet entry hole was in the front, and he was inside your home. He was white.


Friday night, June 12, 2020, Rayshard pulled over to sleep in a fast food parking lot. The news report stated that he felt intoxicated and wanted to rest before being on the road. Someone called the police to report that he was asleep. He was black. When the police woke him and asked that he pull his car out of the dry-up lane that he was in, he cooperated. He was black. When they determined that he was intoxicated, they did not call for a cab, uber, or relative to take him home. They asked him to get out of the car for a sobriety test. He was black. When they pulled a taser, he grabbed it and ran. He was black. As he ran away, he was shot twice in the black. He was black. He died. He was black.

I sleep in a parking lot because I’m tired from work and want to return home safely. No one calls the police. I’m white. My friend sleeps off a buzz in the stadium parking lot. No one calls the police. He’s white. I get pulled over because of false suspicion of driving intoxicated. We have a peaceful conversation and sort out the misunderstanding. I am never asked to step out of the car for a sobriety test. I’m white. I don’t know that the relative ever actually had a robber try to climb in through is window. I bet he would not have even been questioned if such an event occurred. He was white, and obvious defending his home.

Since George Floyd’s death by asphyxiation under a white police officer’s knee, we have been hearing a lot, and grappling a lot with the concept of systematic racism. Other’s have made the case better than I.

Maybe we need to stop Sleeping While White.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to Dept. of Alternative Facts: Sleeping While White

  1. A powerful piece, Oscar. Powerful in its truth.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Funny, that these stories have been rattling around, but without a purpose to tell, until yesterday. Without the joining theme, they were just amusing anecdotes. Of course, you and Hamlin are always welcome to come sit in our rockers on our porch… then we can all snooze a bit in the afternoon heat of summer.

      • We will sit in your rockers and chat about nothing, then about something, drink in hand preferably, then snooze a bit in the late afternoon. It’s on my bucket list, so you and the missus: be warned!

  2. cindy knoke says:

    “An elderly relative, used to advise that if a burglar were climbing through your window, you should A) shoot him in the front, and B) if he fell out the window, go outside, push him back inside, and C) call the police. Then you could claim self-defense because the bullet entry hole was in the front, and he was inside your home. He was white.”
    Isn’t it beyond spooky that we are now the older relatives.
    The protestors want to know, what exactly have we done?

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I did my share of youthful protesting (nuclear weapons, at the time), and continue to agitate through my Dept. of Alternative Facts series, and letters to the editor. Some times I am skeptical that I have much effect not he big wheels and gears of society. Thus, I emphasize a more personal approach to change. I can control this by engaging with people of color, and in times like these listening more than talking. Being present is more useful than being profound. The issue is complicated by the systematic barriers that society has placed between me (upper middle-class, well educated, guy of European decent) and most African Americans — access to education, inheritance, wealth & savings, housing, etc.

  3. Yes. As Cynthia noted, powerful in its truth. Now we must work hard to change our unfair society.

  4. Sharon says:

    You make your point very powerfully. I’m white and live in London. I’m thankful we still have a police force that is not routinely armed. It’s our responsibility to stop sleep-walking past petty injustice and call-out racism in our work/friend groups when we see and hear it.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Your history goes back some hundreds (more likely a least a thousand) years more than ours. Lots more time to muck things up and clean up one’s mess. We have just been denying and blaming the victims for several hundred years. Support those around you.

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