The Checkered Taxis Project - The Jose Vilson

The Checkered Taxis Project

March 24, 2008

New York Cab

To interpolate Jeremiah Wright Jr., I’ve had too many cabs whiz by me and not pick me up.

Over the last 8 months, just by informal observation, I’ve been passed over by an NYC yellow taxi cab 60% of the time (9 times out of 15, more or less). Of course, I’m basing this on knowing that a cab is on duty when their number is highlighted above their cars, they have no passengers, and, in a couple of cases, the cab stops and keeps bobbing his head. As a matter of fact, I’ve actually had a cabbie wave at me while he passed by. I’ve had witnesses of all backgrounds come up to me after observing a passing and say “That’s fucked up.” I even had one cabbie who, after I saw him stopped at a light, shake his head after I opened his door (before I even gave him my address).

But this isn’t anything new. I’m sure it’s been happening since a public cab service became available in New York City, yet one might believe that, because of the diversity that exists amongst the driving corp of that company, we’d see less discrimination based on color, or whatever they perceive as such. After all, I’m just as brown as any African, dark Latino, or Indian, but I suppose what we think we see is more important. The biggest complaint of said discrimination came from Danny Glover, who in 1999 filed a complaint against New York taxi drivers, and prompted Rudolph Giuliani to create a task force specifically for this and other forms of discrimination in this livery service.

Naturally, because the ex-mayor went overboard, the city had to pay back millions in dollars over wrongful suspensions of these taxi drivers’ licenses. There was also a finding that only 15% of the drivers involved race, and the issue was more destination. Yet, my only concern about that is: NYC polarizes people by their destinations, and thus much of it involves race after all. Fast-forward to today, and the jokes about certain people not catching a cab have become as commonplace as Whoopi Goldberg having no eyebrows or GW Bush not being an effective president. Actually, it’s more commonplace than dental appointments and only a little less commonplace than people checking their e-mails. (Don’t ask for research.)

So naturally, I have every right to be at least perplexed by this lack of courtesy. I thought Danny Glover’s message way back in ’99 when he sent a letter regarding this matter would discourage cab drivers from practicing such overt racial prejudice, but no. Some might even feel more emboldened because of the latest lawsuits’ outcomes. And to some degree, I understand some of the taxi drivers’ trepidations: there are a few of us who engage in robbery, abusive talk, and just ignorant behavior that often scares anyone, maybe even someone who just immigrated into the country.

But there’s just as equal an amount of citizens in this city who vomit all over the back of the taxi after an inebriated and really blurry night with their equally disingenuous partners, businessmen who just scream and holler at the taxi drivers while on their Bluetooths, rude customers who roll their eyes at any taxi driver who has even a hint of an accent when asking for directions, or even those ditzes who have no idea where they’re going as soon as they get in the taxi and change their minds 4 different times but still expect the taxi to charge them for the first trip … and won’t even tip at the end of it all.

I wish I could say it’s my fault, like I didn’t look professional enough, I wasn’t wearing obvious clothing, or I looked menacing and stood on the wrong side of the street, but none of this is true. To wit, most nights, I’m wearing jeans, a peacoat, and a winter cap i.e. average NY male 25-35 wear. I’m probably one of the better tippers they encounter in the night, and I even know how to navigate to where I live from wherever I am. In other words, I’m a good customer, and there are good customers just like me out there, wondering why they’re not getting picked up. Yet, I’ve witnessed cabs actually stop traffic and hit reverse when they missed a White person’s wave.

Enough! BASTA! Ya!

From now on, I’m going to start doc’ing these taxis. I’ll be writing down their numbers, and calling their offices promptly. I’ll even write what street corner, what I was wearing, and how long I had to wait in order to catch a cab. Then, at the end of the year, I’ll list all their numbers in a letter, and mail it directly to Bloomberg himself. I’m no celebrity, but it’s time for a change, and I’m tired of sitting on my ass and not doing anything about it. I have a voice, and I’m going to use it to make changes happen. Except for their IDs, I’ll also be logging these incidents here on my blog too, probably as a separate entry.

The one thing I won’t do, though, is base my reports on race, because I wouldn’t want to engage in the same sort of profiling many of these violating taxi drivers do. To their credit, though, the 6 people who have picked me up were of various backgrounds. After one particular ride, as I was calming down from my seething rage, I thanked him for picking me up, and questioned why his fellow taxi drivers weren’t as good to customers as he was, he replied in broken English:

“No worries. Everyone the same, every body a customer. Thank you …”

Cab Window

And that was that. I was dropped off at home. That’s really all I need …

jose, who wonders why we still only count our troops as part of the death total

p.s. – I’m not trying to pit people against one another, but let’s have some honest discussion …

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Villager March 24, 2008 at 6:51 pm

First, I look forward to earning a spot on your blogroll at some point in the future (smile).

Second, I lived in New York for a few years in the mid-1990s and I know the experience … which is odd in that (a) there are so dayum many taxis and (b) most taxis are operated by people of African descent.

Anyhow, I think that you are doing the right thing by documenting the issue. I imagine you will find many others silently suffering who will join your cause over time…

peace, Villager

Reply

Harmony March 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Great idea, Jose. Great idea. Looking forward to seeing the project unfold.

Reply

Bam March 24, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Here it is: recruit a few of your miffed often skipped over by taxi pals to do the same thing you are, and send them to your local papers or at least some college papers. Get a grass roots thing going. If I was there I’d do it – shit I am light bright, damn near white and they skip my ass in NYC routinely.

I feel you on the troops thing. We need to count how many minds we have deployed, redeployed and will need to rehabilitate. This is our generation, and we are death tolling them away on websites and news reports. Dismal and disappointing to say the least.

Reply

Joel March 24, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Don’t worry Villager, I’ve been reading this blog for over half a year and even featured Jose on my blog. Still no blogroll. But I’m not too worried about it. I guess…

I’m a white guy who lives in a predominantly Hispanic community (3 miles from Mexico). We don’t have cabs here, but I definitely get occasional dirty looks from parents and people at Wal Mart or wherever. I can only imagine what kinds of discrimination most people get most of the time. It really breaks my heart. I will be very interested in seeing the results of your study!

Reply

Anonymous March 25, 2008 at 12:01 am

I’m going to tell you right now: No matter what you could have seen joked about elsewhere in the past, I do NOT think that burning parked and empty cabs would be the way to go, no matter how angry people are.

Meanwhile, the media is complicit with the Administration when the media does not count the contractors in the totals of US people dead in the pursuit of the war effort. Don’t contractors matter? If the purpose of telling us how many are dead is to help us understand the human costs of the war, are the contractors less human and therefore not worth mentioning at all?

Reply

Jose March 25, 2008 at 5:12 am

Anonymous, I’m confused: who said anything about burning taxis? I’m doc’ing them, which means I’ll be taking note of numbers and descriptions. As much as I’ve aspired to anarchy, I wouldn’t go that far. There are good and bad taxi drivers, so whoa. Secondly, you’re right. All the people who are killed matter. Every single one.

Villager, I got you. I forgot I had the Afrospear Blogroll on another page.

Harmony, you know I got you.

Bam, in NYC, it’ll have to be bigger than just the local papers, because the local papers are the largest syndicated ones in the nation. Besides, countless stories have been written about this. I will, however, see how this plays out.

Joel, you too? Ha, I thought because you didn’t have a blogroll, you didn’t care for the blogroll. I’ll NB.

Reply

m dot March 25, 2008 at 7:33 am

this sounds like an AWESOME project. i’m looking forward to hearing the results (almost more than i look forward to seeing you b/c that might never happen… hmmmm)

also, i think harmony and i share about 2 degrees of separation. harmony, if you’re reading this you know jose, i know jose, but i think you also know b.mock and are from pittsburgh. cabs in pittsburgh? ha! if you wait at a hotel downtown and refuse to go to the hill district. can i get a jitney?

come to think of it… if i don’t drive, take the subway or walk (in NYC), i have the number of many a jitney in my phone. i seldom rely on cabs… hmmm… i suppose that i presume i’ll get passed over as well and enough of that already!

m(dot)

Reply

Eddie Griffin March 25, 2008 at 11:39 am

Great post. I’m glad that you are taking a pro-active stance in eliminating this problem. Thank God I don’t visit NYC. I still got too much Ole Wild West Texas in me.

Reply

Adrianne March 25, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Sisters can have trouble flagging a cab down too. Thanks for taking this on.

Reply

Amauri T. March 25, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Almost as bad is when they slow down, but before you get in the cab want to know where you are going. I don’t know what the rules around this are, but I do believe that one you are in the cab they HAVE to go where you ask. So anyone reading this comment; if the cabbie rolls down his window to ask where you are going, don’t tell him as a matter of principle. Ask him if he is working and if so to let you into the cab, or move on.

Reply

LuzMaria March 25, 2008 at 8:50 pm

It is appalling to continue to witness this prevalent ignorance.
You should record the taxi numbers and create a stir by sending data to the TLC pertaining to the prejudice which you are encountering. I agree that many others should actually join you in recording this information and sending letters or op-ed pieces to the media. How can others help? Let us know Mr. V.

Reply

Jose March 26, 2008 at 5:36 pm

m dot, socially networking via my blog (ha)

Eddie, NYC’s a great city, but it’s fools like these that make me want to tell you to stay home.

Amauri, I don’t tell them where I’m going before I enter. That’s for sure.

And Luz, once I see how this works for myself, then I’ll let people know.

Reply

Hugh O'Donnell March 28, 2008 at 1:29 am

That’s got to be majorly frustrating — getting passed up by cabs.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, we had no car. We walked, took the trolley or subway, or hailed a cab. The cab was always the toughest. And my Dad — white, WWII vet, and Irish — wouldn’t take any crap from cabbies. But we got passed by too. Why? I don’t know. (I do know that it really pissed my Dad off.)

I’m 45 years out of the NY scene now, so I can’t be of much help, but I definitely do encourage you to insist on being treated fairly.

However, NY cabbies are nutz to begin with, so good luck! ;)

Reply

mzvirgo March 28, 2008 at 9:22 am

Again, thank you for this wonderful blog.

It burns me up when these yellow cabs whiz by me too and I had an incident where my ex and I were in a cab and I told him to take us to Harlem and he said no. We asked him why, he claimed that he has two daughters to protect and that they throw rocks in my neighborhood. Really? I have lived in this area almost all of my life and I never encountered anyone throwing rocks at cabs. Needless to say, we got out of the cab, after my ex blurted out, “we have money!!!” This was around the Danny Glover incident too.

Another incident; when the transit strike took place last year, and everyone had to share a cab, I was sharing a cab with a white couple and they were talking to a driver and I heard one of them say, “it’s sooo hard to get a cab (in general)”. I almost wanted to do an “Excorist” move and spin my head 360 degrees, like “oh please!” They didn’t say that, did they?

Reply

Angie March 31, 2008 at 4:46 am

As Adrian pointed out above, it’s also hard for brown/black ladies to get a cab in NYC also. I’m a Texas girl, but NYC is one of my frequent stop offs. Because I hate being down in the subway, I like to catch cabs. But those cab drivers don’t like to catch us.

One night after seeing the Color Purple, me and my friend stood outside on a corner in Times Square waiting for a taxi to take us back to my best friend’s house in the Bronx. Taxi after taxi passed us up. I couldn’t believe that these drivers were passing on two well dressed women. Yes, we were black. But it should have been clear that we weren’t gon’ rob their behinds along the way.

My friend told me to take out my folding cane, unfold it, and make that bad boy visible. I guess she supposed that the drivers would suddenly become accommodating to our need to get the hell home. Well, a couple stopped, but when we told them we needed to go to the Bronx, they kept going. I guess they didn’t give a damn that this blind woman was standing out there on the corner stranded.

I called my best friend, who was at her job at ABC, and told her the deal. She advised us to get inside the next taxi that stopped, and to not give any hints where we needed to go until we got in.

Boom. That was the ticket. In the taxi and on the way to the Bronx.

Being a Texas girl, I’m all too familiar with prejudice and discrimination. However, that was a new experience for me. I was pi$$ed off that the drivers, minorities themselves, would turn their noses up at us, two black women, one disabled, and keep pushing. Ridiculous!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: