The other day in the virtual land of Facebook (where some live full-time), I noticed a posting by Leon Collins, a friend and former colleague. Here's what Leon, now a resident of Connecticut, wrote about a recent experience while visiting the Big Apple:
Some things never change.
Today my younger daughter learned how NYC cabs are in no rush to pick up black men, especially on avenues pointed toward Harlem. First, I tried to hail a cab at 8th Avenue and 30-something street with no luck. Next, my daughter tried with no luck as well. Then, I said to my child, "I know, let's use the white girl for bait. It's worked before."
Kathleen (his wife) then stood out on the corner, hailed just like we had tried, and don't you know that a cab pulled over in less than 2 minutes.
It doesn't even really anger me anymore, because it has always been this way, as long as I can remember. I simply enjoy the look of surprise on the cabbie's face when the big black guy unexpectedly hops in behind the "bait" and lets the cabbie know where he's going.
I thought about that for a moment, and then it hit me: There are no more white cab drivers in NYC. The New York Times reported earlier this year that only 6 percent of yellow cab drivers are even American-born. So when Leon and other blacks are not getting picked up, the drivers passing them by are not white racists. They are mostly Indian and/or Pakistani men (and a very few women) -- men of color. What gives?
I mentioned this to Leon, and he wrote back immediately:
Paul, sadly, racism, hate or fear of black men and women is one of the first things that many new immigrants to America learn. I sat in the back of that NYC cab today thinking that this driver, a man who I'd gamble was not born in this country, probably wouldn't have picked me up had we not tricked him. It's not just about being being black, although it was particularly sad that my bi-racial daughter with her coffee-with-extra-cream complexion had no luck hailing a cab either. I just chalked that up to her inexperience, but who knows... Anyhow, amongst the many colors, or non-whites, it is the sad truth that blacks still are at the bottom of any list about anything that is good, even in 2014.
That very afternoon, I happened to be in a cab driven by a black man from Senegal. I told him about Leon's dilemma, and this cabbie went off on his own racist rant about the difference between American blacks and those from other countries. He claimed he could tell from half a block away whether someone was an American black or not, and he said he made it a point to try never to pick up American blacks.
"But why not?" I asked. "You're black as well."
"Me and other drivers talk, and we all have the same experience," he said.
He told me of a specific example where he picked up an American black man in Manhattan and took him up to Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. "He ran away without paying, and what am I supposed to do? I can't chase him," he said.
He wrote it off as lost income but promised himself not to pick up any more American blacks. He didn't see the irony of his logic: If he were trying to hail a cab, he'd likely get passed by himself. It didn't matter; he told me he was soon going to be driving for Uber, and his problems with people hailing from the street would be a thing of the past.
So the white, fast-talking, cigar-chomping New York City taxi driver may be extinct, but, sadly, racism is not.