Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Nov. 18,1999 /9 Kislev, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Robert Samuelson
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Weekly Standard


Sorting by race -- NEW YORK CITY is cracking down on taxi drivers who refuse to pick up black males. The mayor, the media and the intelligentsia are suddenly energized, as if this were some new problem that they just discovered.

As a black male, I have for years either rented a car or had somebody pick me up to drive me to places in New York where I had to go at night, because I was not about to stand around waiting for a taxi to pick me up. There were no problems getting taxis in the daytime in midtown Manhattan, but night is a different ball game.

Do I resent having to make special arrangements? Of course. Do I blame the cabbies? No.

Given the crime statistics, do I have a right to demand that taxi drivers risk their lives for my convenience? What am I going to say to the widows and orphans of dead cabbies? "Hey, I have to get to the Manhattan Institute to give a talk and don't feel like bothering with Hertz or Avis"? That would be a very hard sell, especially to the widows and orphans of black taxi drivers, who also pass up black males at night.

The tragic irony in all this is that things were not always this way. There was a time when my biggest problem with taxis in New York was being able to afford one. Crime is the real culprit, however much the demagogues may prefer "racism." Do the cabbies suddenly become racists after sundown?

Professor David Levering Lewis' great book about the 1920s, "When Harlem Was In Vogue," refers to taxis available there at night and being hailed by whites from downtown after they emerged from Harlem parties in the wee hours of the morning. That was a different world. The reality was different, not just "perceptions."

Racial profiling by the government is more troubling, especially when it involves armed police in broad daylight. But nobody judges each person as an individual, no matter how much that pious phrase is used. And race is by no means the only basis for profiling.

People familiar with the stringent security system that you have to pass through going into and out of Israel are amazed when I tell them that my wife and I have been through it four times without ever having our suitcases opened for inspection. For whatever reason, we must not fit the profiles used by Israeli security guards.

The last time we were going to Israel, we saw some poor lady right ahead of us held up for more than half an hour while the security guard opened up her suitcase and spread her belongings all over the counter. When our turn came, he waved us on impatiently, as if he didn't want to waste time on us.

Back when I was a young Marine who had graduated from the Navy's photography school at Pensacola, a group of us were assigned to the photo lab at Camp Lejeune, N.C. We were a bunch of cocky young guys who got a reputation as troublemakers and became known -- not always affectionately -- as "the Pensacola gang."

When the captain in charge had about as much of us as he could stand, he had us all transferred out -- and separated. Months later, another graduate from Pensacola was assigned to the lab but, the moment he set foot on the base, he was told that his orders had been changed. He was transferred sight unseen.

He was not judged as an individual. Just the one word "Pensacola" probably sent the captain's blood pressure up through the roof. Except for me, all these people were white, so race had nothing to do with it. But it was profiling.

The new guy, a very easy-going fellow who would undoubtedly have fit in well at the lab, had a right to be resentful. But toward whom? Just the captain or also those Pensacola graduates who preceded him?

An even more personal example involved a physician who referred me to a cardiologist for extraordinary testing after he had given me a routine physical. The physician said that nothing he had seen in his examination of me would have led him to refer me to a cardiologist. He did it because three of my brothers had died of heart attacks. I was not judged as an individual -- nor should I have been.

We ought to be concerned because taxis avoid picking up black males at night. But we ought to be concerned about what causes it, not just seize another opportunity for self-righteous denunciation.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


Thomas Sowell Archives

©1999, Creators Syndicate