Driving While Black

In 2018, I was nearing the end of my 2-year counseling residency and saving up to start what would eventually become my private practice for psychotherapy. I worked full time at a counseling agency at the time; however, I supplemented my income by driving for Lyft and Uber. I had been driving for those companies since I moved to Richmond, Virginia in 2015.

The 2018 Richmond Folk Festival was being held between October 12th and October 14, 2018. As a Lyft driver, I was notified by email that there would be high demand for rideshare drivers, as Lyft was one of the sponsors of the event. On October 13, 2018, when I booted up my Lyft Driver app and turned the key in my Toyota Corolla, I had no idea that my life would be forever changed.

The details of how I ended up at the Folk Festival are fuzzy, as most rideshare interactions feel robotic when you’ve given thousands of them. As an introvert, I had a well-rehearsed system to ensure 5-star rides with little to no verbal engagement:

  1. Greet the rider and verify their name and destination.
  2. Turn my carefully curated playlist to a volume loud enough to discourage the rider from talking while also low enough to not be obnoxious. I recall this was volume setting 23 on that Corolla, haha!
  3. Enjoy the music and follow the GPS prompts and get the rider to their destination safely.

Easy, right?

The evening started a typical Saturday night.  Other than the email from Lyft, I hadn’t given much thought to the Folk Festival because 1. folk music is not my kind of scene, and 2. none of my ride requests had brought me downtown where the festival was being held.

Later in the night, I pulled up to the Folk Festival to pick up a young man who was leaving the festival. I felt somewhat nervous because there was a ton of pedestrian and car traffic. Fortunately, they had a special lane for rideshare drivers amidst the madness.

As I approached the designated intersection for pickups, I was blinded by a bright ass flashlight in my face.

I pressed my window button as the white Richmond City police officer approached my car, still beaming the light in my face.

“Hello, I’m a Lyft driver and I’m picking up a rid…”

The officer cut me off and shouted, “Don’t you realize I have the ability to end your life!?” with one hand on his gun holster.

This is the point in the story where I dissociated and went into autopilot.

  • I remember briefly losing my ability to hear and feeling cold and tingly.
  • I know that my passenger found me, had witnessed the entire interaction, and asked, “What the fuck was that guy’s problem? Are you ok?”
  • I also continued to give rides for an additional 3 hours throughout the city, though I have little to no memory of that night after the interaction.

As I write this, my wife confirms that I had texted her after the interaction but my brain hadn’t registered the gravity of the trauma until I woke up the next day. It was then that I shared briefly about the experience on Twitter.

“Thankful that you’re ok! Glad this didn’t turn into another tragedy.”

“What could’ve happened to provoke the officer?”

“Did you get his name and badge number?”

All I can say is that I was:

  • A Black man with a huge afro,
  • wearing a hoodie (hood down) and sweatpants,
  • driving a car that I owned,
  • and working part-time as a rideshare driver in the city I call home.

2020 dug up this trauma that I never really dealt with.

I had mostly shoved down the memory of this incident.

In 2020, I witnessed the racial awakening that came to a head in the United States. I was horrified by the video of George Floyd’s murder. I was stunned when the officers that killed Breonna Taylor walked away without murder convictions. I sat confused as I read the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery. I was sickened as I watched the events that took place last month at the Capitol.

It’s exhausting being a Black person in the United States!

So I share my story to show at least one Black reader that they’re not alone. Sadly, we live in a world where you can have two degrees, three jobs, pay your bills, do a ton of good in the community, and can still have your life threatened or taken. It’s mind-boggling. But we continue to fight racism by sharing our stories and speaking up against injustice.

I’ll conclude with a piece of art that I own that resonates so much because of this experience. The piece is by Hamilton Glass, an artist here in Richmond, Virginia.

Artwork by Hamilton Glass.

Thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “Driving While Black”

  1. Keisha Rock says:

    I’m at a lost for words..The fact that you were able to continue working blows my mind..it’s amazing how the mind goes on autopilot in attempt protect us from trauma. This was beautifully written.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind words 🙂

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