Driving Towards Justice When I was 16, a white driving instructor told me that Black people couldn’t be doctors or lawyers. We were taking our first trip on the highway, […]
Driving Towards Justice
When I was 16, a white driving instructor told me that Black people couldn’t be doctors or lawyers.
We were taking our first trip on the highway, and I was behind the wheel. I was focusing as much as possible, nodding and smiling politely, praying I didn’t make a dire enough mistake to fail this part of the course.
I can’t remember why, but the conversation shifted to The Cosby Show. (This was more than a decade ago, so most people, including a teenaged me, didn’t know about Cosby’s sexual assault allegations.)
The instructor started rambling about how The Cosby Show was unrealistic because the parents were a doctor and a lawyer, and that wasn’t realistic for a Black family.
I remember being shocked at his comment but feeling powerless to object. He was a middle-aged man who had the power to pass or fail me in my driving class, and we were driving alone during one of my first times navigating the interstate.
So I stayed silent—still driving, still politely nodding, but quietly fuming and hurting.
I never reported him to anyone because I was afraid the fallout would have bad repercussions for me, but I carried the weight of that statement for years. Despite being an honors student and eventually a high school valedictorian, I always remembered the nonchalance with which an almost stranger told me people who look like me can’t be successful and married to each other.
I can recall so many other times in my youth where people limited who I was or what I could become because their vision of Blackness was so narrow.
There was the counselor who told me I should attend a college close to home because that’s all I would be able to handle. There were the people who said I didn’t get opportunities because I worked hard but because I was the “Black one” and they had to have “a Black one” for everything.
People were reinstating the narratives that are portrayed so frequently in our history books and in our entertainment—Black folks aren’t anything, can’t handle much, and when we are something, it is likely given to us undeservingly.
I was fortunate enough to have family members and mentors who poured into me and provided a counter narrative for my life, but I still work every day to overcome prejudices that I’ve subconsciously internalized.
This is why I am so passionate about advocating for today’s youth.
Young people, specifically young people of color, are bombarded with so many messages about what they’ll never be that they rarely have enough time to realize what they can be.
Young people need to know that their emotional and physical safety matter, and that they can feel empowered to say when that safety is compromised.
They need to feel understood beyond the societal prejudices bombarding them every day, and they need to know people are working to change the narratives reinforcing those prejudices.
The 29-year-old me wants the 16-year-old me to know that Black excellence isn’t impossible—it’s the norm.
By day, Marchaé Grair is the Digital Content Manager at the national office of the United Church of Christ, a progressive Christian denomination. She coordinates social media at the UCC and is the founder and editor of the denomination’s blog, NewSacred.org. By night, she is a dog mom, Cleveland foodie, and karaoke enthusiast.
Marchaé has been featured in Crain’s Cleveland Business’ Twenty in their 20s for her work at the United Church of Christ and for her efforts as the founder and leader of “The Safe Space Ministry,” an LGBT outreach and support group at South Euclid United Church of Christ.