EASE ON DOWN THE ROAD

28 Mar

EASE ON DOWN THE ROAD
Louise Annarino
March 28,2012

We were driving south on I-71 on a crisp Fall day; my companion, a strong and wise African-American man, seated beside me. We talked and laughed, settling into conversation dragged from the depths of thoughts only shared after a car trip exceeds 30 minutes, and hours on the road loom ahead. The road was straight but our thoughts veered back and forth across the lanes of ideas, enjoying the creative energy generated by years of friendship. Occasionally, the CB radio crackled to life with the comment of a trucker, warning others of a “black and white” in the median at mile marker 102. the chatter of truckers was soothing until it focused on another black and white threat – us.

As we passed a truck, the verbal assaults began.

“ I just saw a ‘Co…’ with a piece of white ‘Cu..’ drive past.”
“ F…ing Bi…’ needs a lesson, dude. Oughta’ hang the ‘N…..’ first.”
“ Nah, make him watch us show her what a real man is like first.”
“Then bring out the rope.”

We turned to one another, my companion’s hand stopping me as I reached out to turn off the CB. “No”, he warned, “We need to know what they are saying.”

After describing our car to other truckers, the discussion continued with racial and sexual slurs, and threats of violence. One trucker announced that if he saw us he would drive us off the road. Others threatened worse.

I continued to drive. The only sign of my companion’s distress, a tic in his cheek from clenching his teeth. I could not contain my anger, which fell with tears across my cheeks. “Don’t cry”, he said. When I replied that I could not help it. He explained that tears are a luxury people of color cannot afford. I stopped crying at the truth of that comment. It takes courage to face such hate with equanimity. Allowing one to feel anything while under attack weakens one’s response. It is not safe to take time to cry, shout or even run away. We simply kept driving, and listening. Alert in a landscape unfamiliar to me, the landscape of racism.

This was not our first experience with racism, and would not be our last. But it is the one which awakened in my white soul a deeper understanding. As we approached the first truck we would need to pass, my friend told me to wave and smile as we drove by. This made little sense to me but I trusted him to know better than I what we must do. So, we waved and smiled. We continued this strategy every time we passed a truck. With each successive pass, the dialogue among the truckers shifted from outrage to discomfort; and, finally, to indifference.

During these hours of racial confrontation, I reviewed the entire history of racism: being herded into holding prisons, boarded on ships, sold at auction, whipped or maimed for running, casting down eyes, false smiles, steppin’ and fetchin’, Jim Crow and segregation, anti-miscegenation laws, red-lining, affirmative action and ruse of reverse racism… “Driving while Black!” Finally, we reached our destination. We had come so far for so little…simply glad to still be driving on the road together.

As I watch the coverage of Trayvon Martin’s murder, the inadequacy of response does not surprise me. Nor do the facts of this incident. African-American parents impart the rules for survival to their children, especially their sons, as if their lives depend upon them…because they do. While white parents are shocked, African-American parents are not even surprised. One white official being interviewed commented with great conviction, “No parent could ever anticipate such a thing happening to their child.” I had to shout at the screen in response, “You are so out of touch! The parent of every child of color knows better. This is exactly what they expect and fear!”

As others have commented, we have elected an African-American man president, but we still cannot protect African-American boys from “Walking Black”. President Obama is right when he says:

“It is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. … But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son he’d look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
I hope so. We still have so far to go together.

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