New state. New roads. New highways. New drivers. Unfamiliar territory.
You don’t know which lane you need to be in. Your GPS glitches out every few minutes and suddenly gives you a direction you didn’t anticipate. You’re going too slowly, you nervously brake and cautiously gas, and you feel like you are constantly internally apologizing to the native-area drivers who get irritated with your driving.
You make a mistake on the road, and now a driver is mad at you.
But this is where we differ.
I shake my head so the hair falls to the front of my face and covers it up. I use my hand to shield my face and turn it inwards to the passenger side of the car. I shrink into my seat and try to ignore the person who is peering angrily into the car window. I am mortified. It takes everything inside of me not to sneak a glance and see if the upset driver is actually looking at me or not. But I can’t look anyways. I need to do my best to hide my face. Maybe they won’t know that I’m Asian.
I feel sick because I feel like I have just wronged an entire race of individuals. I feel like I have just let down a hundred thousand high schoolers who look like me, anxiously awaiting to join the roads as a licensed driver. I feel like I have just added to the perception of Asians as bad drivers. This is the weight that I carry whenever I step into a car and start the engine. I am so worried that the only train of thought people will think when they glance into my window is: She just cut me off, she’s Asian, so therefore, she must be a bad driver.
It may seem exaggerated to say that I feel as though my mistakes on the road in new environments reflects negatively on any driver who has the same skin tone and facial features as I do, but I really do feel that way. I think about the “bad driver” stereotype whenever I’m driving and I can’t help but to beat myself up about somehow perpetuating a belief about a whole group of people when I make the same mistakes that another driver of a different race may make. It’s like when my friend confuses and angers other drivers for trying to switch over two lanes in order to exit, it’s alright. Those people are just mad. But when I hear the GPS unexpectedly telling me to exit right and I’m in the furthest left lane, I feel that the surrounding confused and angered drivers surrounding me are more than mad. They’re correlating the color of my skin to the haphazard lane changes I just made.
Can this ever change? I don’t know. I feel as though it’s something I just have to live with. Take caution to always be the best driver I can. Study maps of the roads hours before a trip. Let other drivers cut into my lane if they so please. Smile and wave to signal good mannerism. Do not mess up. Because it will unfortunately look poorly on everyone else who happens to look similar to me.
The big difference is that if you make a mistake, you’re labelled innocently as a bad driver, a potential symptom of carelessness and driving conditions. But if I make a mistake, I’m labelled intentionally as a bad driver, a symptom of my race, my culture and my identity.
Why must my mistake cost more than yours?