Jewish World Review Nov. 18,1999 /9 Kislev, 5760
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
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
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
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
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
JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate