As I Rode to Carbondale to Pick Up My Family, I Realized…

There is nothing more harrowing than driving through Trump’s America in the middle of the night. Lights become sporadic, cellular service spotty at best—that unreliable extended coverage of far away, foreign cell towers. Darkness encapsulates you, making every movement feel like those exhausting adjustments under heavy comforters in winter.

I am one who moves through life unafraid, my personal motto being to fear no man but God. But I watch. And I pray. And the prayers I lifted up as we hurtled down an unknown country road towards our destination were distinctly uneasy, requests ridiculous. Grant us mercy, oh God. Grace Lord. Invisibility. Cloak us. Hide us.

Yes. Fear.

The fear of running into the kind of whiteness that made my dad always drive straight through on our family vacations. The kind whiteness that makes my husband (a full generation older than I) resolutely list off all of the places we will never live or purchase a house. The kind of whiteness that makes my Christian grandmother’s mouth turn down in distaste as we walk through the store. The kind of whiteness that has made my daughters young lookouts who spot police like setters tracking coons.

As we zoom stealthily down country roads in the middle of a dark, starless night, I am reminded of how this land is not mine. How this world is not my home. How I am only as American as I am safe. How I am flying down a country highway and I am not safe except that whiteness is asleep. I remember reading about James Chaney, the fear that must have gripped him. How I imagined the metallic taste in his mouth as those lights came up behind their car. How I am tensing up each time a pickup truck runs up behind us lights beaming into our minivan, the sweet relief when they go around and keep going as though we aren’t out here where we shouldn’t be. I recall the cold irrational terror I felt when two officers of the law pulled their weapons on me because I was black and young and naive enough to believe that being smart and well raised and hard working meant the same as being white. I recall having to explain to my children what it meant to be black in this world, the light of understanding burning in their little eyes before dimming into a familiar watchfulness that I forced on them.

I remember that I don’t belong. This world is not my home. And I am only as American as I feel safe.

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