Amani Willett‘s A Parallel Road is one of the most important books/zines I’ve had the privilege to purchase in a long time. I’m not sure where I heard about it, and big thanks to who/whatever alerted me to it.
Before we go any further, do yourself a favor and go buy a copy now. It’s not often that I review a book or zine almost immediately after receipt, if that gives you any indication…
Willett modeled A Parallel Road on the Green Books, an annual travel guide for African Americans during the Jim Crow era, and does a sort of War Primer II/III détournement, pasting his own images, screenshots, frame grabs, and archival images over a 1926 map of the American Highway system and a copy of the 1940 Green Book.
To be honest, it’s less unsettling to me than it might be, than it might’ve been before I married the darling, adorable Farhana Ali, a Bengali-British-American. Given 1) the ease with which I, a pasty white, middle aged male, travel most anywhere in the Country I like and 2) the overt discrimination my darling, adorable wife and I receive in most of the small- and medium-sized towns we’ve visted, I’m wholly unsurprised that people with different skin tones, and those unable to pass as Christian, Republican, American-by-birth, Cis-gendered, Kindred, Easy-going, and Respectable travelerS would have a different view of the American Road Trip.
Fifteen years or so ago, my mom and step dad drove out of Dallas, up through all the national parks in the west, up into Canada, back through Washington, Oregon, California, and across the desert back to Dallas. I dream of making a similar trip one day when I can afford to take three weeks off and pay for the hotels and meals and gas, and have some confidence that my darling wife would be comfortable and the both of us would remain safe, unmolested, and get treated like fellow citizens and travelers…
In other words, it’s doubtful we’ll ever make the trip. If I’ve learned anything in the last eight or ten years, it’s that I can’t trust the country folk much. Even in very impoverished areas where the people could really use whatever meager money we have to spend, they still treat us in ways that make me unwilling to give them a single fucking penny, and you know I don’t cuss too often on this blog, but their shortsightedness makes me furious.
This is, of course, white privilege and African Americans knew that already. Immigrants of various sorts figured it out long ago. It’s my privilege as a white male that I remained largely ignorant of it all for as long as I did, and equally my privilege as a white male to a) be furious about it and b) just refuse to go back and spend my money there. Shoot. It’s my privilege to even think of it as my money. smh.
So for me, Willett is pretty much preaching to the choir, and what he’s preaching needs to be heard by anyone who will listen. Will a photobook/zine move the needle? Probably more than this whitey’s whiny blog post… Go buy it.
In the long history of American Road Trip books, there is a long history of looking at what makes the people act the way we do, or at least looking at how we Americans act, treat each other, treat the land. Robert Frank didn’t really start it: Walker Evans showed his contemporaries parts of the country and people that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. Ed Rucha showed us gas stations; Stephen Shore showed us what he ate and where he used the toilet. Inge Morath gave us a woman’s view of the Road to Reno.* Shina Fujiwara hitchhiked all over the country multiple times and gave a different idea.** I bought a bunch of books after reading Campany’s The Open Road, and not a one of the books I bought, nor any of the books discussed, were made by an African American.
A Parallel Road gives us a hint as to why, as to what the open road means to other people. And it’s not Ryan McGinley and friends joyously running naked through cornfields (with or without spotters with walkie talkies keeping them safe from prying eyes)… The Parallel Road is a detour.
Very Highly Recommended. Stop reading, go buy.
I’m not sure what the edition number is; Overlapse (the publisher) and Willett don’t mention it. And that’s good: A Parallel Road needs to be spread far and wide.