By Chase Barrett
Growing up, my late oldest brother was an extraordinarily talented person. He was both intelligent and strong — a literal and figurative fighter. He was the California State Spelling Bee champion in elementary school and enrolled in all honors and AP courses in high school. He was never much into sports but did run a lot. My mother always said it was to keep the “monkey off his back.”
At 18 years old, he was also selling upwards of $90,000 a year in cocaine. I remember having bundles of $100’s taped into our vents or in the safe my grandma had bought him for his birthday. Likewise, his best friend was one of the largest fake ID manufacturers in California. He had the DMV templates and the gold-dust ink. Between the two of them, they’d purchase 15 to 20 kegs of beer at a time and throw parties in open fields being unable to launder (or spend) the money any other way.
He wasn’t a violent person but actively cultivated the persona of one. He wasn’t very tall or physically imposing, so the persona gave him protection. He use to say: “People won’t f*ck with you if they think you’re crazy.” In spite of this, he was a champion for the vulnerable and threw his rage at bullies. I remember one bully whose tires he slashed so often his family ended getting rid of the car.
I don’t want you to dislike my brother — I loved him. You would’ve loved him too.
In retrospect though, it was clear that the local police were lazy and my parents were emotionally absent. They enabled his actions. His drug involvement ultimately drew the attention of the FBI, due to its proximity to local schools. He was tipped off and systematically removed himself from the business and destroyed evidence.
He died about a year later from injuries sustained in a car wreck. He was in the process of transferring to medical school to become a doctor.
More than 15 years after his death I find myself asking: “How did a high school senior, a kid (yes, 18 is a child regardless of what the law might say) manage to build a business selling tens of thousands of dollars a year in cocaine?” It’d be easy to blame my parents (who were together at the time) and their inability to control him. They were and still are people easily overwhelmed. Likewise, you could blame the lax attitude of our local police department and their drug enforcement. The truth, something I just comprehended recently and probably aided in part to our current political and societal atmosphere is this:
We were white. That’s why my brother was able to get away with everything.
And while my life-long Republican parents vote for Donald Trump who touts the criminality that illegal (colored) immigrants supposedly bring into our country, I’ve come to understand the real criminality is already embedded in our societal consciousness. White privilege facilitates, protects, and allows injustice and crime to happen every day. Just look at my brother.
My brother was white and from an upper-middle class family. He wore Abercrombie & Fitch and drove a Volkswagen Jetta. He never had to worry about getting randomly pulled over by the police while ferrying $15,000 in his trunk. He could sit at a local park (or Starbucks) for hours waiting for a supplier and never have to worry about getting approached for loitering. He never had to worry about probing questions from law enforcement regarding the baseball bat in his trunk or his bloodied knuckles. I loved him, but he was wrong. And we were wrong.
Do you think an African American or Hispanic male of the same age coming from a lower socio-economic background would’ve been treated the same way? Treated by law enforcement the same way? Allowed to “remove” themselves the same way?
White privilege is very real and as much as I loved my brother, the life he lived was the exemplification of that.
Chase Barrett was born and raised in Bakersfield. Living in San Diego for the past decade, he is currently attending San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business Administration.