Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 1999 /6 Kislev, 5760
Why not sensitize cabbies?
WHEN YOU reach the stage in life that actor Danny Glover has, you don't
expect racism to play much of a role in your day-to-day routine. But last
week, the "Lethal Weapon" star held a news conference in New York to
publicize his recent encounters with racist stereotypes on the streets of
Like many black men (and sometimes women), Glover had trouble when he tried
to hail a cab for himself and his college-age daughter and her roommate.
First, several empty cabs passed him by. When a driver finally stopped, he
refused Glover's request to sit up front where he could stretch out his
legs, which Glover explained were bothering him because of an old hip
During a press conference he held to complain about racial stereotyping,
Glover blamed racism for his unpleasant experiences. But if it is racism,
it's certainly not the old-fashioned prejudice of whites against blacks.
Most of the taxi drivers who passed Glover by -- and the rude one who
finally picked him up -- were "people of color," according to Glover's
lawyer, who spoke at the press conference.
Not surprising in a city where the Taxi and Limousine Commission estimates
that about 70 percent of New York cabbies are immigrants from India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh. Only a small minority of New York City cab drivers
are U.S.-born or European immigrants, and this pattern is repeated in cities
across the country.
But if you ask these mostly brown-skinned drivers why so few are willing
to pick up black riders, you'll get the same answers: fear of being robbed
by the passenger, fear of being robbed by others in the neighborhoods where
these passengers live, fear of being ripped off of the fare they're entitled
to. One African taxi driver I ride with frequently admitted that he
routinely asks some black customers to pay their fare at the beginning of
the trip, even though it's against company policy, because he's had so many
customers flee the cab without paying.
Racial stereotyping? Absolutely. But the problem is not an easy one to
solve, in part, because the stereotypes in many cases reflect the drivers'
own experiences. Steven Holmes, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote a
column this spring on his own encounters with this kind of racial
stereotyping, as both victim and perpetrator.
Holmes, who is black, was stopped a few weeks earlier by a D.C. police
officer while walking near his home in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Holmes became angry when he discovered, after calling the local precinct,
that the officer had lied when he said Holmes matched the description of a
burglar in a housebreaking nearby. There had been no break-ins, leaving
Holmes to conclude the police stopped him because he was black.
But Holmes' anger abated when he realized that he'd been guilty of the same
kind of stereotyping years earlier when he had driven a taxi in New York
while putting himself through college.
In three years of driving, Holmes was robbed twice, both times by young,
black men. " I did not quit driving a taxi. I liked the job too much,"
Holmes said. "But I became more choosy about who I let in my cab. I still
picked up black women, older men, couples, families and men dressed in
suits. But my sense of tolerance and racial solidarity was tested every time
a casually dressed young black man, especially one in sneakers, tried to
hail my cab. Most times, I drove right by," he admitted.
How do we fight the temptation to judge people by the color of their skin?
There are already laws on the books in most cities that make it illegal to
discriminate against passengers, but they haven't ended the practice. Glover
recommends more training for drivers.
I'm usually skeptical of such
racial-sensitivity programs, but maybe it's worth a try. Taxi drivers have
the right to avoid danger, but law-abiding citizens also have the right not
to be presumed dangerous simply because they're
Linda Chavez Archives
©1999, Creators Syndicate