It’s an affront to common sense to suggest there is equivalence between black-on-white bigotry and its opposite. As an aggregate, bigoted blacks have much less power to injure whites than vice versa. They also have less history of doing so. These are incontrovertible facts that render hollow the yowling demands that the racism of blacks be accorded a place in the national consciousness commensurate with that of white people.
So when you find a black bigot, feel free to censure and ostracize him or her as the circumstance warrants. I don’t care. Just don’t pretend the transgression is what it is not. Don’t claim it represents a significant threat to the quality of life of white Americans at large. Because if it represents such a threat, then where are the statistics demonstrating how black bias against whites translates to the mass denial of housing, bank loans, education, employment opportunities, voting rights, medical care or justice?
And please, spare me the anecdote about Jane, who couldn’t get into school or Joe, who lost his job because of affirmative action. Not the same. Not even close. There are, in fact, reams of statistics documenting that racism has fostered generation after generation of Joes and Janes — not to mention Jamillas, Rasheeds and Keshias — in the African-American community. And those numbers come not from the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the Congressional Black Caucus or any other group with an ax to grind but, rather, from the federal government and from university think tanks.
Yet even with those bona fides, some people find evidence of white racism’s power dishearteningly easy to ignore.They have to, I suppose. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to continue pretending an equivalency that does not exist.”
One of the best parts of taking a road trip alone is that my opinion is the only one that matters. I get to do exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it, all the time. It is truly “The Lissie Show.” I never have to pull over because someone else has to pee or to feel bad because I want to stop when the other passenger doesn’t want to.
While this is pretty awesome, it presents the challenge of figuring out what it is that I want. Over hundreds of miles, I’ve had to get in touch with what exactly it is I want and how to get it. Generally, I have to work to fight my indecisive nature, but there’s no room for indecision on a road trip. I could (and did) spend hours and pass by countless exits deciding where to stop. Each time I struggled to divine the perfect exit. This, of course, is ludicrous, but it was genuinely a problem for me.
As the road trip goes on, I’ve noticed how my decision-making muscle (so to speak) has gotten stronger. In a short amount of time I’ve forced myself (or been forced to) quickly assess what it is I want and how to get it. Whereas in Arizona I never knew when to pull over, now I can decide at the drop of a hat and exit only seconds after considering that option. Now, part of this is that I’ve learned some tricks to get what I want out of my options—truck stops generally have cheaper gas, McDonalds always has free, easy to access water and clean bathrooms, even numbered highways run east/west while odd numbered ones run north/south, etc. But part of it is also that I’ve gotten more comfortable with the unknown. I choose not to plan out where I’m sleeping at night so that I can let it unfold as it will. Initially, this caused quite a bit of anxiety but more and more I’m learning to make do with what I have.
A huge part of making do with what I have and being comfortable with the unknown is the framework I use to assess a situation. There are no accidents or mistakes in my car. Instead, I have “opportunities to learn” or “chances to laugh at how cute it is when I miss an exit.” In many ways this just boils down to being patient with myself and thus committing to be flexible. And you know what? It’s a pretty great recipe for happiness! (Or at least helped me avoid a lot of grumpiness). When I missed my bus in Seattle, I choose to walk and got to see a new part of the city. When I got sick of driving in Yellowstone I pulled over to do some yoga and after about ten minutes a bison trotted by me. I couldn’t get a campsite at Yellowstone so I headed to the Badlands instead where I was able to take a hike without running into a single person. When I get hot I look for a lake or river to jump in. Rather than getting hung up the way something doesn’t work out, I look for ways to make it work. This can mean changing my plan but sometimes all I have to change is my attitude.
Becoming aware of the framework my mind prefers to use at different times is part of the process of getting to know myself. While traveling with Sean and Sienna for the first week, I was able to get to know them very well. When you’re confined in a small space with another person, what you get, to some extent, is their stream of consciousness. This is a juicy way to learn about another person. In the same vein, I’m getting to know myself. I get to observe what I think when I’m uninterrupted by another person’s input for 12 hours straight. What do I think when there’s only me?
Interestingly enough, what I get is a lot of looping. If my mind is a maze, then there are certain routes that are so familiar I can navigate them by heart. Becoming aware of these patterns is similar to studying a map. At times while I’m driving I try and simply observe where my time consistently wanders. At the same time, I’m trying to challenge myself to explore new parts of my mind maze, to think new thoughts and approach my other thoughts from a different direction. This is particularly interesting when there is a crisis that is not so easy to framework-dance my way out of (like when I come back to my car, only to find out it’s been towed by the city of San Francisco). Despite the ups and downs, it feels amazing to become a more competent traveler and decision maker. I also should add that for a road trip around the country, I picked fabulous company!
Along the Road
Almost as soon as I hatched my plan to spend the summer driving around the part of the world known as the United States, a friend of mine sent my an article called “The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters” by Vanessa Veselka. In the essay, she critiques how our society has no way to understand a woman who is so riddled with wanderlust that she has no option but to explore. Instead, our cultural imaginary only allows for female explorers who encounter some sort of physical violence-either rape, murder or both. Veselka’s critique shaped the way that I heard people’s reactions to my trip:
“You’re going alone? Why don’t you go with friends? Aren’t you scared?” (Implying, of course, that I should be scared).
“Are you bringing mace? Do you have a knife?” (In fact, I even had one person give me pepper spray)
“You’re going to camp? Don’t you think it would be better to stay in a hotel?”
The article resonated with me because in nearly every discussion I had about my trip I was confronted by the fact that for me to travel alone was inherently dangerous. By the time I left I was pretty used to these standard responses, all of them dripping in fear culture but every time it made me angry. It makes me angry that I live in a culture that literally has no space for me to explore alone (don’t even get me started on how our culture disallows and delegitimizes female anger).
With the exception of my therapist, I cannot think of one person who did not warn me about the dangers of the road (including the people who were supportive and excited for me). As a traveler, I’ve been told time and time again how the places I visit are “dangerous” but this labeling begs so many questions. What makes a city or a country or a form of travel dangerous? Is it the crime level? The risk factor? The exposure to strangers? Crime exists in my own city but the people there are not aghast that I live there? So why is it so hard for them to stomach me navigating other spaces where crime may or may not exist (in so many instances I feel that people’s understanding of a place as dangerous is colored by the news or by a movie and rarely by personal experience). In these conversations, danger seems to be qualified as violence against bodies, in this case mine. And yet, I would argue that watching the news for an hour or reading any standard magazine also does damage to my body as I absorb messages about (through the absence of an image that reflects mine). Magazines tell us that there is a normative way to comport ourselves and look. My chubbiness, androgyny, or piercings are not reflected on the glossy pages. As for the “news,” it paints a picture of constant war and violence. Conceptualizing US media as businesses that do violence to the masses (all genders), I am baffled by people’s inability to understand solitary female exploration.
By setting out on this road trip I was saying “fuck you” to fear culture and letting myself bask in the power of that. Veselka writes, “During my travels I had literally thousands of interactions with people’s ideas about what I was doing with my life, but almost none of them allowed for the possibility of exploration, enlightenment, or destiny. Fate, yes. Destiny, no. I was either “lucky to be alive” or so abysmally stupid for hitchhiking in the first place that I deserved to be dead. And, while I may have been abysmally stupid, my choice to leave home and hitchhike was certainly no stupider or more dangerous than signing onto a whaling ship in the 1850s, “stealing” a slave and taking him across state lines, burning through relationships following some sketchy dude around the U.S., or accepting rides from drunk people while on hallucinogens. These tales are fictions, yes, but they deeply affect how we see people on the road. And the shadow cast by these narratives—one that valorizes existential curiosity, adventure, individuality, and surliness—does not fall over women. In a country with the richest road narratives in the modern world, women have none. Sure, there is the crazy she-murderer and the occasional Daisy Duke, but beyond that, zip.”
With this in mind, I set out to, in a small way, lay a foundation for a female bodied road narrative. That is not to say that my experience will define what female road narratives look like, but rather I hope to expand people’s tolerance for someone other than a male-bodied person on a solo quest. My experiences will be colored by my white privilege, thin privilege, the fact that I know someone in almost all the cities I’m visiting, the fact that I have a car and appropriate gear to spend many nights alone and that I am not allowing fear or fear culture to narrate my adventures.
Summer Road Trip
I’m going to be back soon with photos and updates about my cross country road trip!