Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rude Cabbies & Racism

As a partial response to a recent hachet job on cab drivers in the Bay Citizen, I'm re-publishing the below post from a few years ago.

In his classic study, The Nature of Prejudice (1954), Gordon Allport described prejudice as an

"Aversive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group."

People with these "objectionable qualities" are often described as being: ignorant, lazy and stupid but you have to watch them because they're clever and dishonest and they'll cheat you if they can. Although different groups have different stereotypes assigned to them (Blacks, Chinese and Jews for instance) they are almost all universally described as being "dirty" and "smelling bad."

One could argue that it is usually members of the "lower" classes who are looked down upon (pun intentional) and, since they do most menial labor, this stereotype might have some basis in fact. A laborer working in cotton fields or a cab driver working all day in the hot sun might not smell too good after a 10 hour shift.

In my opinion, however, this argument is mainly a rationalization. The real reason for the stereotype is the desire of one group of people to feel superior to another. As Allport emphasized, prejudice is "Psychologically powerful. Racism makes people feel good."

In San Francisco 2012, of course, being a racist is not PC. Putting people down for being bus drivers, waiters, janitors or cab drivers, on the other hand, is cool. In fact, the same stereotypes formerly reserved for people of color or non-gringo ethnicity are now openly applied on the basis of class. Bus drivers and cab drivers make particularly good targets for slander because most of us do belong to minorities of one kind or another.

This allows modern hipsters to feed their petty power lusts without thinking of themselves as bigots.

The racial subtext to stereotypes of cab drivers comes home to me every few weeks when a customer gets in and tells me, "It's great to have a driver who speaks English." Well, I think we all speak English - although some of us have accents. I think that what the guy really wanted to say was, "It's great to have a white cab driver."

Being "white," however, does not necessarily save me from being stereotyped.
  • Despite the fact that I take at least one shower a day and am neatly dressed when I work, I've been told that it was disgusting to ride with me because I was "filthy" and "stank."
  • In my 28 years of driving, I've never intentionally taken a customer "the long way" but I've had  over a hundred people complain that I did so - a few of whom called either the police or my company. Although it's hard to pick a favorite among these, I think it might be the guy who called to say that I cheated him because I drove him from California and Polk to Pine and Baker using Pine instead of California (You need to know the city to fully appreciate this).
  • Oh yes - the only person I ever intentionally took "the long way" was an attractive woman who I thought was flirting with me. I wanted more time to find out. As it turned out she was. I made up for my transgression by buying her dinner.
  • I've been told that I was stupid (a thing that always interests me) a couple of hundred times and both the "A" and "MF" words have been used on me more frequently than I can count.
  • I've also had two women spit in my face. Four different men have punched me and several others have tried to do so. I've had three attempted or threatened robberies that I managed to stop before they really started. Once a guy on the street walked up and hit me with a beer bottle for no apparent reason. Two different people have threatened to kill me - the last one because I refused to take an illegal left from the far right lane on Broadway across four lanes of traffic onto Stockton during rush hour. Dude said he was late for work.
Perhaps you, gentle reader, are thinking, 'What did he do to cause such behavior?' I have a real simple answer. I drove a cab.

I'm working on a more direct response to the Bay Guardian article that should be finished in a day or two.


  1. Ed,

    Nice piece. According to a 2010 CNN article, being a taxi driver is the 10th most dangerous job in America. More dangerous than being a fireman or police officer. You write about the hostility and violence that has been directed at you. Then there is the danger of fatal auto accidents. Your philosophical attitude towards the dangers is refreshing. I get scared to death out there at times. The ugly episodes are hard to shake off and haunt me. There is really no point in relating them. Like you said, many people will just think I must have done something to cause them.

  2. Sheer poetry, Ed. Why was I treated that way? "Because I drove a cab."
    Everybody, including (maybe especially) people who were once treated
    badly themselves, thinks they can look down on cab drivers.

    My newest abuse line, an instant classic as far as I'm concerned: "We're
    in a cab, we can do anything we want."

    I remember a guy who asked me some kind of life-related question and when
    I began to give my best answer he interrupted me saying "I can't believe
    I'm taking advice from a cab driver." He did ask for the advice, but
    decided the chances of useful remarks from a cab driver to be so slim that
    he cut the project short. (After all, I'm only a cab driver.)

    This that you wrote is also pure gold: "Putting people down for being bus
    drivers, waiters, janitors or cab drivers, on the other hand, is cool. In
    fact, the same stereotypes formerly reserved for people of color or
    non-gringo ethnicity are now openly applied on the basis of class. ...

    "This allows modern hipsters to feed their petty power lusts without
    thinking of themselves as bigots."

    I had been trying to figure out who the "hipsters" were that people were
    talking about when it was made abundantly clear once I got a party of four
    of them. Few people have ever been more demeaning toward me.


  3. It was 4:10pm and my shift ends at 4:30pm. Sutter and Grant. An extremely well dressed 'gentleman' flags me down. The doors of my cab are locked. I lower the right side window and say: "It is the end of my shift. Where are you going?".

    He says "Marina". I says "Sorry I cannot go to Marina as I finish in a few minutes".

    Without any delay, he showed me his long middle finger and said I am an ass hole and a sick bastard.

  4. That article in Bay Citizen had the feel of pr hit piece on cab industry. probably one of the competing new smart phone distributed car companies had the ear of the journalist who wrote that.
    Cab drivers are the peoples best friend in general when this new smart phone technology comes in and replaces the basic cab industry, only the average consumer who currently disrespects the cab drivers will be hurt, because those who can afford to get a ride fast will, and those without out the money will have to wait, kind of analogous to net neutrality law in regards to the internet.
    Which is those who can pay for high bandwidth would get fast internet and those with out $$$ have to go to slow lane.
    Cab companies have been used to pushing cab drivers around now they are going feel pressure of bigger fish capitalists pushing them around..can be a tough world out there.

  5. If I tell you about my incidents, I am sure, most of you would fell being very lucky; of course those if us rhat are not dead or disabled. Someone with good handle on English languge (like you) could make large sums of money if collect and publish our incidents. It could even make a TV serial.

  6. Dear Ed,

    I'm a taxi driver from Melbourne, Australia. I'd would like to tell you that I loved your article on racism and would like to thank you for speaking out on behalf of taxi drivers. It seems to be that no matter what country one drives a taxi in the issues and problems we face are almost always the same so, thank you for speaking out on all our behalf.


  7. Thank you for the reply Ed.

    Please go ahead and use my words (hopefully without the grammatical errors- I have my senior moments...).

    It never ceases to amaze me the way people assume that I'm a cheat and morally reprehensible while they are above reproach. At such times, I still don't know whether to laugh or cry. Also, Im still trying to come to terms with the fact that those in authority seem to think they can do whatever they like with us.

    Thank you again for all that you do to promote taxi drivers' causes.


    Anna Stavretis

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