Road Diaries: Waking up in 2020

From her home on wheels in a canyon, EO road columnist Sasha McGhee looks back on the pandemic and how the nation is confronting racism and sees hurdles and hope.

It wouldn’t feel right to start this column without addressing just how overwhelming 2020 has been for us all. Not even vanlife could shield us from this shit storm. We were in Florida, having been in our van for almost three months when we first got word that SXSW was canceled. That, for me, was the first major indication that our world was about to change. Shortly after, Florida state parks announced closures to overnight visitors. Like most other folks, we were grappling with the fear of an unknown virus and the canceling of every plan we’d made. Being on the road also meant we had to quickly find a home base that would work for us indefinitely.

On May 25, my birthday, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. It rocked the nation and our van home. As a Black person and part of a minority group, there is no escaping the racism and degradation that the US has inflicted on the people I come from. Watching Black people be murdered over and over again while America debates whether it was deserved, is a traumatizing hell that I wish on no one. I can recount multiple experiences I’ve personally had with police after being pulled over for being Black. Those experiences ended with me walking away because the officers couldn’t find a reason for them to end badly. Speaking in an “accepted” manner, being fortunate enough to afford vehicle registration and insurance, maintaining a valid driver’s license (or not experiencing a surprise suspension)—all of these things are privileges that many of us take for granted. I could spend an entire column discussing America’s villianization of being poor. Maybe I will someday soon…

One positive that has resulted from the continual tragedies that have wracked our communities is that more people are beginning to pay attention.

One positive that has resulted from the continual tragedies that have wracked our communities is that more people are beginning to pay attention. Genuine conversations are being held about bias, racism and inclusion and people are being given platforms to educate and share experiences. Companies are evaluating their cultures and realizing how exclusive they are. Communities are having conversations about the overt and covert racism that has kept Black people outside. Major cities are beginning to evaluate what real, community-focused public safety might look like.

With all of that acknowledged, we still have a long way to go. As I sit here, looking out over the walls of the canyon we call home, I’m reminded that the pandemic that is stealing our loved ones has somehow become politically divisive. People are losing their jobs, health insurance and homes. And even though the hashtag was created in 2012, we’re still having to explain why Black Lives Matter is an important and necessary conversation. But somehow, I still have hope.

Photos by Ben Pingilley @threevancats

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