Most of my friends and family know I have a fear of driving, especially on the highway. I didn’t always have this fear. It manifested over several years, worsening to the point that I gave up my car. The tragedy of Sandra Bland once again reminds that even during the most routine situations — driving — safety is an illusion if you’re black and in America. And it is knowing that safety is an illusion — especially when behind the wheel of a car — that is at the root of my fears. I wrote about this for The Root Thursday.
For most of my adult life I’ve struggled with anxiety—whether mild or serious—and it’s done everything from make me cancel events to lose my train of thought midsentence. It’s caused me to hide in my house for days on end, and about six years ago it came for my ability to drive anywhere without having panic attacks.
The fear is rooted in one singular thought: I’m not safe.
I tell myself that I am paranoid. That I am overthinking things. That in human history, I couldn’t be living in a safer place and time. And yet I live in a time when Sandra Bland could drive to Prairie View A&M in Texas to start a new job, get pulled over for a routine traffic stop, have that escalate into an officer’s claim of assault, and a few days later be dead of “self-inflicted asphyxiation” in a jail cell.
She was from Naperville, Ill. I used to go to school in Illinois, and my father graduated from Prairie View. I was there in my youth. I also once drove to Texas early in my career to take a job at a newspaper in Midland. Then, before the fear, I expertly drove the wide expanse of Texas highways and through the small, one-light towns and speed traps. My mother rode shotgun and pestered me about going the speed limit and using my turn signals.
“What for?” I thought as I tore down another highway that seemed to go on forever, highways that Texas is full of. I was trying to get where I was going.
“But you don’t want to arrive dead,” my mother would fret.
She was worried about a traffic accident. Maybe she should have been worried about a police officer stopping me for speeding? But that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, happen to me.