Discrimination on the Off-Ramp

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
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(Photo: rclarkeimages/Flickr)

(Photo: rclarkeimages/Flickr)

Long-haul truck driving is thriving in the United States, and remains one of the surest ways into the middle class—a rare occupation with low barriers for entry, stable work, and prospects to earn more over time. But minorities say discrimination is rampant. Rick Rojas investigates the barriers faced by minority drivers and what some are doing to surmount them.

Rojas' Pacific Standard story is currently available on newsstands and to subscribers and will be posted online on Monday, March 28. Until then, an excerpt:

He had cruised through farmland parched by drought, blazing desert, and wide-open prairie. Now, four days into a routine cross-country journey, Michael Ware was slogging through traffic in the suburbs south of Chicago.

"Moves like that I don't get," Ware, 44, huffed from the driver's seat of his Peterbilt as a Chevy Tahoe cut him off. "They don't know how to drive in Illinois."

The comment might have been motivated by a momentary flash of road rage, but it was certainly informed by the hundreds of thousands of miles Ware has covered in 15 years of driving.

Ware, who is black, is part of the rise in minority drivers who have found their way into the trucking industry, drawn by the opportunity for decent middle-class wages and the promise of growth, and even self-employment. The trade, unlike other steady working-class jobs, has not only survived the rise of a global economy, but thrived in the United States.

"Nothing moves without trucks," says Kevin Reid, the chief executive officer of the National Minority Trucking Association. "You look around: If it's manufactured, a truck touches it."

While trucking is an easy enough industry to enter, for minority drivers, barriers soon begin to pop up. Many say they often face an omnipresent "good ol' boy" system, with discrimination par for the course in hiring decisions.

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