A past time that brings me absolute joy is to take car rides along rural backroads. I switch to “avoid highways” on my Google maps settings, and off I go. Backroad trips are part of my self-care kit. I have recently begun reading and watching African American scholars who have placed a lens on road trips and the American landscape. Allyson Hobbs, Al Young, and Harryette Mullen, to name a few.
In “Black Nature,” literary scholar Harryette Mullen shares that historically, African American connections to the American landscape were through the form of “unpaid labor, oppression, segregation, discrimination….not to mention racial violence.” Allyson Hobbs illustrates this in her 2018 New York Times feature, “Summer Road-Tripping While Black.”
When social distancing became our recommended way of life, when the museums and other public spaces shut their doors, when social events were postponed, I took to the road for anywhere from 1 hour to 3-hour backroad trips. The way steam rises from the roadway on a rainy day, the architecture, farm animals, birds, lights flickering through tree foliages – it is all a beautiful representation of man and nature. Then there are the times when I will pass a Confederate sign, billboard, flag, or sticker, and I am quickly stripped from a place of adoration and forced to think if the area is safe for me or not. And everything else racism-related.
Still, I can not leave the past time alone and do not plan to do so. As Audre Lourde once stated, “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Image 1: Currently reading “Trace: Memory, History, and Race and the American Landscape. I am in chapter 2, and the author is colorfully illustrating her connection to place. Also, her desire to learn about her family history by visiting their American place of origin. While traveling along I-40 in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma the author comes across a road sign that reads: WELCOME TO BOLEY. LARGEST AFRICAN AMERICAN TOWN FOUNDED 1903. BOLEY RODEO MEMORIAL WEEKEND
Image 2: one of several YouTube videos on the Boley Rodeo. This is a clip from a video titled, “Historic Boley Rodeo”
Do you enjoy backroad tripping? Share your experience via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org