Jacqueline McBride Is White Privilege Personified

McBride admitted to spitting on two people during a pandemic, then tried to explain away her actions. She's not the first to attempt such a feat, but hopefully she'll be the last.

jacqueline mcbride, who has been arrested for the di bruno bros. spitting incidents

Jacqueline McBride, who has been arrested for the Di Bruno Bros. spitting incidents, is the spitting image of white privilege. (Images provided by Philadelphia Police Department)

Let’s just get this out of the way: If Jacqueline McBride were black, you wouldn’t be reading this op-ed about our societal fascination with the motives of petty criminals.

It’s a fact that speaks to the world we currently live in, one where black and brown people are disproportionately covered for criminal mischief in the media compared to their white counterparts. We live in a city where we can pretty much anticipate a crime story featuring a black man in a mug shot on television every night. We’ve become desensitized.

But then we have a case like that of McBride, the 27-year-old white girl living in Rittenhouse who was recently arrested for spitting on two people and whose story has become a viral sensation. What is it about white women behaving badly that warrants such attention? Why are we still stunned by such actions? Why is there a public expectation (perhaps a hope) that these particular individuals will exhibit remorse — will reveal themselves to be somehow less repugnant than their purported actions?

Answer: white privilege.

Unlike most black and brown petty criminals, McBride was granted a media platform in which she attempted to justify her actions. For some reason, it wasn’t enough for people to simply see a mug shot of a redheaded white woman accused of spitting on two people during a pandemic and move on with their lives. No, it was in the public’s interest to understand why she did it. She couldn’t just be a common thug who acted irrationally, right? Because somehow, that would be too hard to believe coming from a white woman living in Rittenhouse. There must have been a reason!

In an exclusive interview with Philly Mag — in which, mind you, she cops to the spitting in question — the saliva assailant, who describes herself as “not a bad-looking woman,” complained that people were “making me out to be like I’m some kind of monster.”

“People are treating me as if I am some kind of crumb,” McBride says in the interview (one in which, notably, she doesn’t apologize for her conduct). “Like I’m some kind of lunatic scumbag. But I’m not. I’ve been depressed lately, like a lot of people are. And I’ve been in a kind of desperate situation. Normally, people love me.”

Yeah, no.

If white fragility were a person, McBride would be a textbook local example.

It took this interview to convince people that she wasn’t the person they may have been hoping that, deep down, she actually was: one who was regretful, apologetic, remorseful, concerned. It took this controversial interview for the court of public opinion to finally deem her “narcissistic” and “awful.” Because I guess spitting on fellow citizens in the middle of a damn pandemic — regardless of the reason — wasn’t enough. 

This messy situation reminds me of Kathryn Knott, another young white woman who got an overshare of Philly press (especially compared to her two male co-defendants) after being charged in an infamous Center City gay-bashing. Knott, who would later be acquitted of the most serious counts during the trial, also had her excuses for poor conduct broadly covered. It’s infuriating that people of color in this city (at least, those who aren’t public figures) very seldom get afforded such extensions of grace. Whether McBride or Knott squandered their opportunities with tone-deaf responses is beside the point: People who look like them still get to explain themselves — and we still act shocked by their entitled behavior. And that needs to stop.

It has been well-stated that this pandemic isn’t necessarily bringing out the best in people, but rather is showing us who people truly are. I could care less about further attempts to try to make me empathize with entitled criminals. To only afford the more privileged among us the opportunity to justify despicable behavior simply enforces double standards we should all be combating. Especially during a pandemic that is putting all kinds of double standards — particularly those with truly dire consequences — into much sharper focus.