‘‘DWM (Driving While Mexican)!

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During a TV commercial a while ago, I got up off my rear end, darted to the kitchen, tossed a bag of popcorn into the microwave oven and waited patiently for the popping to begin.

And in a matter of seconds there came the first one…pop!

And then came the second…poppop!

And the third ….poppoppop!

Then suddenly there came the many…poppoppoppoppoppop ….with decreasing time in between each pop!

And then there were few. And then there were none. You get the picture.

Delicious hot popcorn in hand, I trotted back to the couch ready to see the rest of one of my favorite TV programs: The Andy Griffith Show.

Now let me tell you where I’m going with this.

You see, I liken what happens to popcorn in ovens to what happens when I throw jaw-dropping topics into the cyberspace ‘oven’ in the form of articles and await the popping – in the form of comments – to begin, continue in earnest and trickle off after a few days. In the end, it’s my hope that the reader walks away with a broader perspective, a greater appreciation for a diversity of viewpoints and a bit better off as a consequence.

With that as an introduction, I turn you now to Jim Barnhart, a freelance writer from Lewisville, Texas. We exchanged emails a while back during which he gave me the okay to publish one of his original unedited articles, “Slow Drivers.” Here it is:

Have you ever gotten stuck behind a car driving inordinately slow? Then once you get a chance to get by them, you catch a glimpse of the driver and this thought pops into your head – ‘Well, that explains it.’ I bet many of you know just what I’m talking about – the age or race of the other driver confirms some preconceived stereotype you were already thinking. 

Back when I was in more of a hurry to get places, these slow drivers really annoyed me. I also had these stereotypes in my head about them. Decades ago the main culprits of snail driving were either old people or Asians. If I got stuck behind an old Asian, I shudder to think what my blood pressure was doing. In the last decade or so the demographics of the neighborhood have changed and now it’s the Hispanics. When I got the chance I would make a point of zooming by to let them know of my frustration. I might also honk at them if they did something particularly annoying that blocked my way.

Then something happened that got me to start thinking about the other driver’s point of view. I took a vacation with an old buddy of mine a few years after the turn of the century. We both had some free time on our hands and decided to do a road trip out to Arizona and back. My old buddy happens to be Hispanic. He was born in Dallas and his family has been here for multiple generations and he even has a little trouble speaking Spanish. However, he still looks very Mexican. 

During the trip when it was his turn to drive, I noticed he was being very careful – never straying over the speed limit, doing every action meticulously and watching everywhere so much it gave the impression he thought he was being followed. Finally I got curious and asked him about his driving habits. He explained that, even though he was a natural born citizen, his Hispanic appearance drew more attention from the police and over the years he had learned how to drive so as to not attract the traffic cops and possibly get harassed somehow.

This was a new point of view for me. I had lived my life secure in the rights of a U.S. citizen and always considered the police to be there to help me and keep the crazies off the street. The idea of having to watch my every move so as not to attract undue attention had really never crossed my mind. I began thinking about what might be going on with the slow drivers in my increasingly Hispanic neighborhood. 

Maybe they were like my friend. Maybe they were just trying to get where they needed to go without getting pulled over. If they were here illegally, then I could really understand their caution. I expanded that point of view to try to fit the Asian and elderly stereotypes I had in my past. I tried to put myself in their place, which was a challenge.

Now when I encounter one of these slow drivers, I try to remember what it might be like for them and I try not to tailgate or zoom around them aggressively. They might be having a hard enough time with their driving and I don’t need to be making things worse by harassing them. 

Questions for a thoughtful analysis:

  1. To what extent was Jim’s story an eye-opener for you, if in fact it was?
  2. What are some of the consequences for those who watch their every move or play down their “otherness” in an effort to fit in and not attract undue attention to their difference?
  3. After reading and reflecting on everything that’s been written here, how likely are you now to mumble a cuss, tailgate, pound your horn and cast a menacing stare at someone who appears to fit a stereotype if he or she has slowed you down on the highway or on your way up the organization chart?

Okay gang, ready, set, go; this one is now in the oven.Let the popping begin!

©Terry Howard reads, writes and revels in Douglasville, Georgia. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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