The other day, I was driving to the mall with my family in the car. There were two left-turning lanes and I was in the rightmost lane. When I made the turn, I noticed that the car to my left was swerving towards me. At the same time, the driver on the opposite side of the road was also swerving towards me. I was staying perfectly in my own lane when my extra-cautious, backseat-driving mother exclaimed, “Watch out!” as she pointed at the drivers to my right and left. I flinched from the loud noise but didn’t swerve or change what I was doing. I stayed in my lane, let out an exasperated sigh, and muttered some expletives under my breath.
No one was hurt and my car wasn’t scratched, but it was quite an experience. If you follow me on Snapchat, you’re probably familiar with my many rants about the crazy drivers in my city. Now, I’m not saying that I’m an excellent driver (I’ve had a couple of fender-benders and I didn’t pass my driving test on my first try… or second…), but personally speaking, I am a big fan of using turn signals, not getting speeding tickets, and staying in one’s own lane.
Driving is the most Kantian thing ever. When you drive, you do certain things out of duty for some universal good. You know, like, not getting in a wreck? That, I would argue, is a universal good. In non-philosophical terms: I’m a big fan of turn signals, not getting speeding tickets, and staying in my lane not because I particularly enjoy doing it or because it pleases me as a driver, but because they’re common courtesy—you do these things and it will be beneficial for you, the people in your car, if any, and others on the road. So even when I’m not going out of my way to be an all-star driver (if there’s even such a thing), I’m doing my part—fulfilling my duty—for this universal good.
Not according to my extra-cautious, backseat-driving mother.
I held that I was staying perfectly in my own lane, and other people were not; therefore, other people put us in danger. If I had done anything differently, I would have overcorrected and gotten us into an accident. At that point, the fault would have been on me for hitting the other cars.
But my mother argued that I should be more aware and cautious of other drivers. It’s not enough to simply do my part as a driver to be safe on the road; I must be proactive and watch out for others, even before making any decisions, because I have family members in my car whose lives I must protect. While I can’t necessarily control what others are doing on the road, and while I don’t have the ability to see the future and predict what others would do, I can do small things that can make a big difference. Like waiting a few seconds after the light turns green to scope out the road, not letting people who run over stop signs frustrate me to death, or simply being more patient. It’s uncomfortable, annoying, and frustrating, but maybe it’s worth it.
The conflict that stemmed from this incident puzzled me for a couple of days—and not just the driving part. I realized that it served as a perfect vehicle (ba-dum-tss) to illustrate my post-elections sentiments.
I deleted my Twitter and Facebook apps because I couldn’t stomach the thought of a) whom we’ve elected as President and the state of our world, and b) others who called those of us who couldn’t stomach the thought of our President-elect “special snowflakes” who boohooed because the elections “didn’t go our way.” For two months now, I have refused to watch any news channels. I turned off notifications from AP for a solid two weeks following November 8th. I decided that I was going to immerse myself in my work and my work only (I wrote a blog post about it). And despite spending four whole years studying political science and philosophy, I thought that maybe I should give being apolitical a try.
I was staying in my own lane. It was an act of self-preservation more than anything. Sure, I wasn’t “hurting” anybody by doing it, but I was being selfish. I was staying in my lane primarily so that I don’t have to risk making myself feel uncomfortable. What I truly desired was comfort born out of fear. But I didn’t want to admit it.
Meanwhile, I noticed people close to me overcorrecting in response to the elections. A couple of family members became paranoid, never forgetting to warn me of any single thing that could potentially pose a threat to my existence. A couple of my close friends started leaning more extreme to the left or right. Socialism. Communism. Perpetual anger. Peaceful protests. Not-so-peaceful protests via social media. Ad hominem attacks. An endless stream of articles for audiences that only cater to our own ideology. And for what? “Discourse”?
I won’t make blanket statements about how “we” can’t engage in conversations anymore, but I know that I’ve become terrible at it. I can feel myself getting defensive when I hear things I don’t agree with. I still get visceral reactions when I hear the President-elect’s name, and I feel emotional every time someone mentions January 20th. This is the state that I have been in for a while, and I feel pretty pathetic for it.
But I realized that I can’t keep hiding like this anymore—in fact, I don’t have a choice because I am a Person of Color (PoC). As a PoC, to be apathetic and apolitical isn’t really an option that I have. My very existence is necessarily, and inevitably, political. To “stay in my lane” is to comply with the system that is built not by people like me, and for people who are not like me. To “stay in my lane” is to be silent. To “stay in my lane” is to be complacent.
And I was not built to be compliant, silent, or complacent.
So in the next few days before this darn awful year ends and in the coming year, I resolve to be an over-cautious driver. I want to fulfill more than just my duties, no matter how uncomfortable it should make me. I resolve to be proactive and always watch out for Others because the stakes are—and always have been—high.
I resolve to be uncomfortable, annoyed, and frustrated, and not fight against these feelings. It’s part of my daily existence as a PoC. It’s not something that I can choose not to be or feel if I want to exist at all in this country, where I am neither a part of the dominant culture nor majority population. It will take patience—a whole lot of sweet, sweet patience—to keep going in the face of adversity and discomfort. And also probably listening to my overly-cautious, backseat-driving mother.
Cheers, and may 2017 bring you health, happiness, and prosperity.