Road Tripping While Black: Readers Respond

This summer I need to accompany my daughter on her move to California. There are states where I am not comfortable on the roads. I am always afraid that the police will stop me. I am afraid that I will be accused of doing something and the fact that I am a middle-aged lawyer won’t save me. And I am wary of stopping at establishments in towns where I might not be wanted. That is what racism does. It makes you wary, all the time, so we will likely fly despite the risks of airplane travel.

Valerie Johnson, Durham, N.C.

Credit…Tyler Beckworth

Road trips have always been a passion of mine and I will certainly plan a few this summer. However, being a black male has and will continue to keep certain places off limits in my mind. Rolling through a small town and stopping in the local bar has always intrigued me, but unless I’m with my white friends, I won’t stop. There’s simply no knowing who is in there. I’m sure I’ve missed out on a great bar with great people. But it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

— Tyler Beckworth., Los Angeles, Calif.

My friends, who are mostly white, have a freedom in making travel plans I never will. I sweat every detail from where we stop for gas, spend the night, even the side roads and detours we take.

I refuse to let fear dictate the choices I make, but there are limits to how much protection even the most abundant caution and vigilance can provide. I’ve been incredibly lucky and never had a racial incident while driving, but I wonder with every trip whether or not this is the time my luck runs out.

— Spencer Gilbert, New York, N.Y.

I have taken multiple short and long road trips across America, including one bicycle ride from San Francisco to Washington D.C., exactly 10 years ago this June. Of all my international travels, it was the bicycle trip across America that worried my friends and family the most. Two black women on bicycles riding through Middle America. We were highly visible and had lots of interactions with other travelers and folks in small-town America. Our awareness was heightened, but we did not experience any overt hatred. We did experience many acts of kindness, like a ride into town during a hailstorm. Or when a white police chief in a small town let us camp in his backyard because the only motel in town said they had “no vacancy.” We heard many opinions from native, black, white and immigrant communities about our ride and about their politics. We saw signs protesting Obama. Mostly people were shocked and curious to see us.

— April Banks, Los Angeles, Calif.

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