If your socials timeline looks anything like mine, you’ve seen all of your favorite travel influencers talking about taking a road trip across the US. Even the big media outlets, The Points Guy, Bloomberg Businessweek, and TravelAwaits, have all written about road trips within the last week. And I’m not exempt from it.
So, why are we all talking about road trips? Well, because our audiences are googling it. Check out this screenshot from Google Trends below.
The graph shows what is popular in Google searches. This graph is the interest in a “road trip” search term over the last 30 days on a scale of 0 to 100 using Google magic to calculate those percentages. The main take away is people are looking for information about road trips. You can see the graph is close to the 100 mark.
While bloggers, Instagramers, and journalists, are dishing out their favorite road trip tips, a big piece of the conversation missing is the black experience traveling in the United States.
I recognize that I’m writing this during a political uptake following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmad Arbery. So, let’s intersect racial issues with just getting in your car and road tripping around the US.
I was hesitant to write this post because I wasn’t sure if I can accurately describe the complexities of the black experience, racism, and systemic oppression. Also, I’m no historian nor sociologists.
So, I won’t.
This post is about my experiences with friends and family experiences. At the end of this post, I’ll include some historical and socio-political resources from people who know the history.
Let’s get into it. Why did I spend hours writing this post? It seems like just hop in the car and add gas. That’s it. Right? Not if you’re black in America.
What I’m talking about is nothing new. The Negro Motorist Green Book, referred to as the Bible of Black Travel, was first publishing 1936 and gave black travelers a guide to taking a road trip from the Northern to Southern states. To summarize, this book gave black travelers a list of gas stations, restaurants, car repair shops, etc that were safe for black travelers to avoid racists attacks. I encourage you to review the hyperlinks above and explore the history.
I’ve taken several road trips along the southeast and the running joke amongst my road trip crew is to be extra cautious where you stop for gas. If there aren’t any other black people or POC at the gas station, I usually find another one. I’ve driven through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia and I always am fearful when I stop for gas-based solely on the color of my skin. This feeling is amplified when I travel with friends or my husband.
More black people = more attention.
Basically, wandering around unfamiliar places has never been safe for black people. And I’m scared to take most of these “typical road trip itineraries” from your favorite white travel bloggers who frequent small towns in the middle of nowhere.
Kyle and I attended college in North Carolina and frequently take the 6 hour trip between Atlanta and Greensboro. On one trip rushing back for class, Kyle got pulled over at night in South Carolina for speeding. I remember being almost in tears by the time the officer even made it to the car. He did receive a speeding ticket but we left with our lives. Blessed – unlike other black drivers.
When a group of friends and I rented a cabin in rural North Carolina over New Years’ Eve 2018, we were all very aware that we were the only people. A trip to Walmart for food and groceries was filled with silent anxiety. To lighten the mood by half-joking about behaving low-key to avoid any problems. We all know that respectability politics is flawed but what else can we do?
Because I’ve lived and traveled between Northern and Southern states, this fear/ issue is not specific to either of those areas.
The Atlantic wrote a good article on why Black Americans are not nostalgic about Route 66. To summarize – because racism.
In 1930, 44 out of the 89 counties that lined Route 66 were all-white communities known as “Sundown Towns”
Sundown Towns are all-white communities that threatened the safety of black travelers to not be in the town after sunset. In 1930, it wasn’t uncommon to see threatening signs along Route 66.
While the signs may be gone, the racism, attacks against black bodies, and fear are not gone. Now, I’m probably more afraid because there aren’t any signs.
As a Black traveler, there is a lot of anxiety around traveling in the United States.
That is why this blog is so important to me – my hope is that through reading about my experiences we can push past the fear of traveling around our own country. To be clear, that is not to say this anxiety is not real and based on real danger against Blacks. As in all things, I can’t operate under fear. Although it is dangerous to be Black in America, I will continue doing what I love – TRAVELING.
And we have every right to enjoy this country.
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension Of American Racism by James Loewen
Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin
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