White Privilege vs. the Police: Confessions of a Previously Troubled White Girl

Written by Charlotte Penabel

“I thought I’d share my own personal ‘criminal’ experiences of my past and felt it important to note that through all of these instances (and more to be honest), I have no record.” Toronto-based artist, Charlotte Penabel, preambled on her Instagram caption as she posted a series of bubblegum-pink slides that illustrated her experience(s) with law enforcement as a young, white woman. It immediately caught our attention, so naturally, we reached out.

“It’s easy to live in a bubble of oblivion when we don’t face the same consequences,” Penabel continued, “I have no criminal record at all”. Each slide told a different story as we read through each one. Her words, “I have no criminal record at all”, became increasingly haunting echo that rang louder in our ears as each slide included a violation worse than the previous. Even though the stakes became higher, each story had the same ending: a warning and a slap on the wrist from law enforcement.

“It’s easy to live in a bubble of oblivion when we don’t face the same consequences.”

Penabel’s stories are raw, honest, courageous and eye opening. Part of continuing the collective anti-racism conversation means everyone from all walks of life stepping forward to share their stories — each with a unique perspective that contributes to our collective education in our journey to be better anti-racism allies. Speaking up isn’t easy but as people are starting to find their voices, the ice is starting to crack. Getting the courage to share personal stories, such as this one, is a radical way of stepping up to the podium.

“White Privilege vs the Police: Confessions of a Previously Troubled White Girl”

“When I was 15, I got caught stealing a backpack worth of merchandise from Zellers…”

“They just gave me a warning…”

“My best friend and I were caught stealing groceries from a store…”

“…I ran inside the Tim Hortons and hid inside the walk-in freezer before 8 cops flung open the door with their guns pointed at me screaming…”

“I got caught stealing alcohol at a downtown LCBO…”

“When I got caught for public intoxication…”

“When I was addicted to opiates in my 20s, I was forging fake prescriptions…”

“When I was addicted to drugs and escorting in a motel, my best friend was outside and the police forced her to show them our room…”

“I have no criminal record at all.”

Written by Charlotte Penabel, edited by Roya Ansari


Charlotte Penabel is a Toronto-based digital collage artist and is the 2019 winner of Toronto’s Untapped People’s Choice Award at Artist Project 2019. Her artwork explores different elements of pop culture, the feminine aesthetic and the mystified celebrity experience. Her pieces often explore the juxtaposition of the projected fantasy of Hollywood glamour and the reality of the hateful, self-loathing being a byproduct of our highly sexualized, consumerist culture. Penabel recently started a small line of handmade jewelry and is currently working on her first memoir that recounts her experiences with unhealthy friendships, addiction, mental health, etc. You can check out her website and follow her on Instagram, @uplatecantsleep.

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