Here's What It's Like Taking a Long Road Trip as a Person of Color

July 28th 2017

If you live in the U.S., eventually someone will probably encourage you to take the "Great American Road Trip."

"My dream, from way back—from high school, when I first heard the name Kerouac—was of driving across the United States," wrote Paul Theroux for Smithsonian Magazine in 2009. "The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination."

However, making the journey to see the rivers, lakes, and winding roads of this country is not an equal proposition for everyone. Road trips in the U.S. were historically fraught with danger for minorities. The "Negro Motorist Green Book," which was published from 1936 to 1964, provided places that were welcoming to blacks as they made their way through the segregated country.

"The Negro Motorist Green Book"Wikimedia Commons - wikimedia.org

Fears about safety persist in 2017.

Brian Broom wrote a funny (but also sort of sad) piece for Very Smart Brothers called "I Want to Take the Great American Road Trip Through the Heartland, But I'm Scared Because I'm You Know, Black."

In the piece published July 19, Broom wrote that seemingly emboldened racism in the current political climate is a big emotional obstacle to his dream of taking a cross country road trip. 

In February the Southern Poverty Law Center said that the number of hate groups rose in the U.S. for the second consecutive year, and that there was a spike in hate-related incidents around the 2016 presidential election. 

"Some might say that I’m being histrionic. But, they always say that until something happens and then there’s the wave of 'I can’t believe this happened in America!' shock until it all dies down and something else happens," he wrote. "I do not want to travel alone through Trumpland as a black man and that’s a shame because it adds to long list of things that black Americans are dissuaded from doing in the U.S. Like laughing or walking the streets."

Comments on a Facebook post of the article revealed similar fears. 

ATTN: talked to young Americans of color about their experiences with road trips. None of them experienced any violence, but all of them expressed similar worries. 

Uncomfortable moments on the road

David Mondragon, 30, was born in Mexico and raised primarily in the United States. He lives in Southern California and he recently completed a road trip to Idaho for a friend's wedding.

"I didn't start feeling uncomfortable until we started getting out to the middle of Nevada," he said. "There was only white people." 

David MondragonFacebook/David - facebook.com

He and his travel buddy, who is white, stopped at a barbecue spot to eat, and the waiter was rude to Mondragon. 

"The guy who took my food order really grabbed the money of my hand, I was like, 'Damn some attitude,'" he said. They hurried to finish their food and left. When they stopped at a restaurant to use the restroom hours later, Mondragon had a strange interaction with an armed man. His friend went inside to use the bathroom, and a few minutes later a man with two pistols came outside. 

"He got out of the bar and he looked at me and never took his eye off me," he said. "He kept glancing at me and the whole time he had his hands on his pistols." Mondragon noticed the man had a sheriff's badge in his car, and when his friend returned from the bathroom he told him that they could only stop in bigger cities for the rest of the way. 

He said this experience wasn't unique for him, and he usually feels afraid during road trips. 

"I've done a lot of road trips and I always feel uncomfortable the whole time," said Mondragon, who mentioned his tattoos could make him look intimidating to some people. "When I started to get older, I realized that cops felt threatened by me and also I'm an immigrant. I feel scared to do anything because I keep watching the news and people seem to get deported for anything." 

Carla Gauldron, 27, lives in Boston and she's taken road trips to New York City and Florida multiple times.

Carla GauldronFacebook/Carla Gauldron - facebook.com

The Latina with Dominican and Columbian heritage said that she usually only stops in cities and usually doesn't have any issues. However a recent experience off the highway in Connecticut disturbed her. She and her boyfriend at the time, who is Asian, stopped at gas station and several bikers pulled up at the same time. 

"Recently I stopped at a gas station and there were motorcycles with a bunch of confederate flags and they just grilled us up and down," she said. "I was like let's buy what we're going to buy and get out of here."

Sid Bahl, 30, is Indian-American and lives in Syracuse New, York. He said that although he's never experienced any violence he worried every time he decides to take a road trip. 

"I do not worry about race-related violence but I certainly worry about general racism because it can take so many shapes, like poor service at a rest area, delayed service at a restaurant, mistreatment at a hotel," he said. "I do my best not to put myself in obviously unfavorable situations."

Some travelers were surprised at their experience. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Khellie Braxton, who is black, took an extensive cross-country road trip that covered the East Coast, Texas, and California. Braxton said that before the trip she was "terrified." 

"I'm from Maryland but I don't really consider that the South, so I had definitely built up a lot of fear of driving through the south," Braxton, who prefers gender neutral pronouns said. "Mostly my fear focused on, 'what happens if I break down in the South." 

Khellie BraxtonKhellie Braxton

While traveling through the small town of  Vidor, Texas, with an ex-girlfriend, their car did in fact breakdown in the rain. Braxton started freaking out. 

"'Texas is a red state and maybe the things that you do and the lifestyle you live isn't necessarily accepted there.' That was my idea in my head," she said. "My experience though was the complete opposite." 

She said that a man pulled over and helped them, and the small hotel they stayed at was friendly. 

"It was not racist or homophobic or anything I had built it up to be," she said. She said they kept to cities rather than small towns for most of the trip and only experienced some strange looks.  

"Me and my ex would go to hotels and they would all be like 'two beds right?,"  and we would say 'no.' I think it gave everyone pause," she said. "We got a lot looks but everyone kept their comments to themselves."

Would you have concerns about taking a road trip again?

Bahl said that he was taught to appreciate diversity, but worries about traveling in places that may not welcome him. 

"As a result, I have always had a concern about racism when leaving the familiarity of my home area," he said. "I do not let it dictate my actions per se but I do not completely ignore it either."

Gauldron said that although she's never let safety concerns stop her from traveling, she would never go on a road trip by herself. 

"Being a minority woman is hard. It's not easy," she said. "I feel like it puts us in a awkward situation where we have to choose and consider our personal safety every time we want to go visit friends or family."

RELATED: Airbnb Host Refuses Asian Guest, Tells Her ‘This Is Why We Have Trump’

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