Tennis champion Serena Williams made a smart decision by asking her 18-year old nephew to drive her to meetings, so that she could use her phone during the ride. After all, you’re three times more likely to get into a car accident if you’re texting, dialing, or even reaching for a phone. But for the African American community, there are more perilous dangers while in a car than these visual-manual subtasks — like simply driving while black.
Research has shown that members of the black community are more likely to be stopped by police than those in the white community. They are also more likely to be physically touched, handcuffed, pepper-sprayed, and pushed to the ground after being stopped by an officer. Given the increasing racial tensions throughout the U.S. and the numerous episodes of police violence against black people — many of whom were in vehicles leading up to or during the incidents in question — people in the African American community are raising their voices and speaking out about how black people are unfairly targeted by cops while driving.
Serena Williams is among those who are taking a stand against these injustices and hazards. Williams took to Facebook to share her thoughts, stating how she spotted a police officer on the side of the road while riding with her nephew. She said she “quickly checked to see if he was obliging by the speed limit … I even regretted not driving myself. I would never forgive myself if something happened to my nephew.”
Although similar sentiments are being shared across the country, Williams used her high-profile athletic status to perfectly capture the fear and anguish that the black community continues to grapple with after countless black killings at the hands of police. In addition, her post highlights the amount of automatic suspicion that those in the black community are subjected to by authorities, and the community’s acute awareness of that bias.
Another concern for parents, activists, and educators is that young black people essentially have to be coached to ensure they avoid seeming suspicious to authorities as they go about their daily lives. NBA star LeBron James had already conveyed that he’s scared for his son, who is four years away from driving age, to get behind the wheel of a car — not because of hazards on the road, but because of the current racial climate and police actions.
Sometimes our children speak the truth better than adults ever could. In September of 2016, 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant spoke at a City Council meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. In a video of her speech, the young girl said “I feel … that we are treated differently than other people. We are black people and shouldn’t have to feel like this. We shouldn’t have to protest because you are all treating us wrong. We do this because we need to and have rights.”
Although answers to the implicit questions in this speech remain unanswered, it’s clear that big changes have to be made in order to make our country whole again. One can only hope there will be a time — sooner rather than later — when the only thing black Americans need to worry about while driving is whether they’re wearing their seat belts.