Permit Patty and the White Water Privilege

Over the weekend the hashtag #PermitPatty trended across social media. It was linked to a viral video of a woman, who had seemingly called the police on an eight-year-old girl selling bottles of water on the sidewalk.

A lot of commentators are brining race into the story, due to Permit Patty being a white lady, and the young water vendor being a black girl. This is ridiculous because we live in an entirely equal society, where everyone is awarded the same opp…

…I’m sorry, I can’t even finish typing that sarcastically!

This looks bad for Permit Patty, whose real name I’ve intentionally made absent from this piece. She’s been caught up in a long line of viral incidents that have documented white people calling authorities on black people for doing normal, everyday things.

If you’re reading this and jumping to Patty’s immediate defence, consider a time where you’ve seen a lemonade stall in your neighbourhood. Did you call the cops, or not?

If you did, then go ahead and defend Patty. It means you don’t discriminate against the race of any vendor or stall ran by children. Congratulations, you might not be a racist, but you are a no-fun, jobsworth busybody. And on some level, isn’t that worse than racism?
(No, it’s absolutely not)

I remember being at an extremely white festival up in Boulder last month. It was incredibly enjoyable, it just happened to have a sea of white faces. It was like a Harvard picnic, or a funeral for the Milkybar Kid. He wasn’t strong enough, or indeed tough enough for that head-on collision with an eighteen-wheeler.


I remember there being three unlicensed, child-run lemonade stalls, throughout and in-between the official stands of the festival. In fact, one child set-up shop right beside one of the grown-up, licensed lemonade vendors. Which I thought showed, a) balls and, b) an excellent understanding of Hotelling’s Law. A business theory that I’m absolutely certain this six year-old had been aware of.

My point is that thousands upon thousands of people walked by these vendors and didn’t calls the cops. They were still running their, quite frankly, crappy little stalls at the end of the festival day.

But I wasn’t about to buy lemonade from an unlicensed vendor, are you kidding me? Sure, it may have been half the price for the same size cup, but how was I supposed to know they followed health-codes. They probably made that lemonade with unwashed hands, squeezing snot and piss into the water, along with the lemons. One stall even had an opened bag of sugar laying around. There’s just no telling how many bugs helped themselves to a glucose overdose that afternoon.

But I didn’t call the cops on them. Despite what some people think, I’m not a monster.

“I f***ing told you sis, $1 a glass is too much. Now you’ll never get your f***ing pony.”

Kids who run stalls without a permit are still subject to the same stringent, capitalist society that we live in. They’re going out to try and earn a little extra money for themselves and their family. Which is admirable, and a strong sign that they’ll probably do okay in this world. We can either be won-over by the cute factor and buy an ice-cream from them, that may or may not contain traces of human faeces. Or we can ignore them, as we would any other business that doesn’t take our fancy. That’s capitalism.

We can’t call the cops on entrepreneurial spirit. That would be calling the cops on America.

Look, was the little girl selling water technically breaking the law? Yes, probably. But she wasn’t doing anything to harm anyone. Make one illegal manoeuvre in a vehicle and you’ve already put more lives at risk than a child selling bottled water on the street.

Back when I was around age twelve or thirteen, I’d buy multipacks of chocolate bars before school and sell them at lunch for twice what I had paid. Man, if I did that in 2018, Jamie Oliver would personally dispatch a halloumi hit-squad to take me off the streets.

I knew from the beginning that the multipacks were “not for individual resale”, but I did it anyway, because I was a kid who saw the opportunity for money to be made.

I eventually stopped when an employee from the supermarket I bought from ratted me out to my school. I still haven’t forgiven you Sandra, I couldn’t buy the video games I wanted that summer thanks to you, Sandra. I hope you’re happy now, Sandra.

I stopped because I got caught, and I didn’t really think about it again until a couple of years later. I distinctly remember helping out at adult-organised events and seeing that they were selling multipack chocolate bars at stalls. Selling them individually, just as I had. I also remember going into licensed, discount supermarkets, and seeing the very same bars of chocolate being sold separately. With the same “not for individual resale” label on the side.

It could be that this was the first time it really hit me, or it could be that I’d figured it out some time prior. But from this I learned that all adults are doing is breaking the rules, most of the time. As I began to consume news and look at the world around me, I discovered that the adults who break the rules the most, are the ones who end up with the greatest portion of the wealth.

So now we have Permit Patty, who became visibly angry at a child on the street, while she may not have batted a solitary eyelid at Wall-Street bankers who scheme and trick the wealth of a country through illegal loopholes. She probably doesn’t lay awake at night, wondering what all of the unpaid business taxes from the 1% could do to help society. But by God, she got on that phone and called the cops on an eight-year-old girl selling water.

The point I want to make, if you’ll let me, is that maybe this did have something to do with race directly, or maybe the problem goes beyond that. Perhaps Patty goes to white-nationalist rallies, or what’s more likely is that she’s just an example of the deeply rooted, subconscious racism that’s prevalent in this country. It could even be that this has nothing to do with race at all, that she just hates all rule-breakers, or can’t stand children in general.

Either way, I put it to you that this is all a distraction. The current government, and the financial powers that be, absolutely love it when we’re at war with each other and attacking the minor rule-breakers on the street, or small-business owners like Patty who call them out.

It means that the spotlight isn’t on the adults who’re really breaking all the rules. The corrupt bankers, the members of the 1% who refuse to pay business tax, those who use off-shore accounts to channel tax money out of the country. Or even the big-businesses who manage to avoid permit laws, the same as our eight-year-old water seller, because nobody is looking at them.

I’m part of the problem, as I’ve just written a thousand words about the Permit Patty story because I knew I could get a few jokes out of it along the way. I just hope that you take away a different side to this story. And to understand that for five minutes this morning, TV news outlets (from the left, right and center) spoke about the crimes of a little girl selling water, and her accuser. Whilst ignoring the real capitalist crimes that are committed every second.

And if, for you, this story is still entirely about race. Go for the bigger white whales, the men and women who keep perpetuating the idea that we should be divided. Patty is just a single cog in a white, shiny wheel of hatred. One that bigger, oranger men are turning.

Today is Monday, June 25th and I’ve been listening to Japanese Breakfast on repeat. You should too.

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