David Bell (pictured here drinking in a whiskey bar in a completely legal and civilised manner) usually sticks to the hard facts in the news section of the Perth Voice, but in this week’s Speaker’s Corner he argues the ability to participate in that long-held Australian tradition of street drinking without police intervention is a “white privilege”—a neologism referring to the subtle privileges white people enjoy, often without even noticing.
I street drink. All the time, probably at least once a week. I love taking the dogs for a stroll with a Little Creatures pale ale in my hand, or walking to the train station on the way to a gig while enjoying a beer.
I’ve never been pulled up by police on it, ever, and I’ve probably done it 50 times a year since I turned 18. Last time Bruce Springsteen was in town, me and 780 of the whitest people you’ve ever seen were walking down Wellington Street on our way to the Perth Arena, and approximately 775 of them had a beer in hand. Not one person was pulled up.
Having a drink
So on my way home tonight it was a wake up call to see three police who’d pulled up a couple of Aboriginal women (one an older lady, the other weighing about 48kg) who were having a drink while sitting on a bench on that exact same street. I overheard one of the officers talking about how many hundreds of dollars the fine was, and one of the women saying “but only one of the bottles was open, the others are still sealed” or something. That’s rough, because I’ve never been taken to task like that, and I’ve done some blatant street drinking in the approximately 560 times I’ve broken this law since I was 18.
I get that there’s a fear that if people are drunk that they may cause violence, and so street drinking isn’t allowed. But hey, violence is already illegal right? Why are we jumping to conclusions here that if you have a beer on the street that you’ll go on a rampage, while if you have that same drink as a $14 pint in a bar then you’ll be totally chill? I’ve never done any violence all the times I’ve had a beer while out for a walk.
No matter how drunk I’ve been I’ve never done any violence to anyone, and I don’t think these two women were likely to cause any mischief either. The worst thing I’ve ever seen a street drinker do was yell at me across the park asking to borrow a lighter. So yeah, it’s the law right now, street drinking is illegal, I get that. But it’s clear this law is selectively enforced.
I don’t think I’m oversensitive. I think people are whiny babies when they jump on tumblr complaining that Matt LeBlanc is sexist because he made a joke that he likes seeing that Game of Thrones dragon woman naked (one article said he should “Quit Hollywood” because he admitted he might start watching the series again after hearing Emilia Clarke did some nudie scenes), or when they say Stephen Colbert should be banned from TV because he makes a joke about Asian stereotyping (the satirist who portrays an ultraconservative character was sending up the “jokes” about Asian accents that were last popular circa World War II, but some who were intent on taking offence took it at face value). I think some of my lefty friends can be oversensitive, and sometimes people enjoy being offended.
But what I saw tonight—that I can street drink 560 odd times in my life and never be pulled up on it, that I have a neighbour who walks his dog around the block with a glass(!) of red wine in hand every afternoon, that all of us regularly see white families popping a chardonnay in the park—but two Aboriginal women sipping some white wine from a water bottle require three police to corner them and read them their rights? That is some blatant white privilege right there.