How Cars Change Relationships

In 2013, I had a car accident that destroyed a car I had just paid off–in fact, when a passerby checked on me, I kept repeating, “But I just paid this car off. But I just paid off this car.” Despite slowing down to wait for the other vehicle, the other driver was looking down at her phone, and turned into me before I could stop again, and that was the end of my car. Predictably, the police officer accusingly approached me and demanded how fast I was going, and just as predictably, I meekly provided my account as nonthreatening as possible, since he had approached me with his hand on his weapon. The other driver was a white woman, so “understandably,” she could never have been the cause of this accident, and he demonstrated care and concern for her wellbeing. From that moment on, many relationships dissolved based on my inability to reach them due to low funding, debt, and the high cost of renting a vehicle. Even though people pretend not to understand, this is an example of why the phrase “colored people’s time” is so offensive.

During the Great Depression, many within the dominant narrative moved to the newly created suburbs to get away from Black people and, to a lesser extent, Latinx people. The understanding was that because Latinx people could be consistently exploited due to language barriers, it was relatively safe to live around them, while Black people were “crazily” doing things like existing and standing up for ourselves. The highway was created not only for the ease of commuting between the suburbs and the city, but to slowly eradicate the presence of nonwhite people in the urban core. In the 1980s and 1990s, several Black and Latinx members of the “baby boomer” generation purchased homes in the suburbs in defiance of previous segregation, but those purchases also decreased the household income with another constant expense: personal vehicles, often for both parents.

So it was that cars became symbols of class and sophistication, largely because they could prevent access from other people. Additionally, entire cultures of fastfood, drive-ins, annual car trips with the ancillary hospitality industry exploded. So much of our current understanding of existence depends on a car that many of us cannot fathom living without personal vehicles–and many people shame others for not devoting what is now $500+ per month, just for transportation. Despite the retaliation of the elites against the working class, cities are continuing to build suburbs and push the homeownership narrative even as people are struggling to eat. Even the tech industry has demonstrated how much it hates poor people by often building campuses outside not only the city limits, but the range of even commuter buses and trains, sticking the last mile on employees.

The reality of the United States is that we are a country formed by propaganda, and seeing cars as maturity and stability is a dangerous mindset with rising temperatures. Building roads and parking lots increases the urban heat island index, but people driving in cars never feel the heat wafting off the sidewalks long after the sun has set. Callously, many drivers sneer at people without personal vehicles to either get a car or get a job that will allow them to get a car, blinded by a complete lack of self awareness. As long as people equate “normality” with owning a car, the hostility against the working poor will increase, regardless of the rising prices of gas, insurance, and all of the other ancillary costs related to owning a car.

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