November 26, 2015 at 2:00 am
“I’m picking him up sir, I’m sorry”
These were the words that were spoken to me one fall night by a cab driver as I opened the door to step inside. I was winding the night down after having dinner with my girlfriend and her family at a restaurant in the West Village area of New York City. As my girlfriend was having a conversation with her brother and his boyfriend, I excused myself to hail an approaching cab. When the cab got closer to where we were standing, I signaled my girlfriend but then I noticed that instead of slowing down, the driver was speeding up. Confused, I stood there with my hand in the air as I watched the cab pass me and stop for a white man who was only a few feet away from me.
Unwilling to accept the blatant act of racism that happened to me, I walk up to the cab, open the door and attempt to go in. Immediately, the cab driver turns around, looks at me and says, “I’m sorry sir, I’m picking him up.” Shocked and numbed by the fact that this cab driver very clearly chose the white passenger over me based solely on the fact that he is white, I walked back to my girlfriend. As I get closer to the group, I hear her brother somberly say, “that’s fucked up.” I look over to my girlfriend (who is white) and tell her, “Just hail a cab, you know they never stop for me.” Two minutes later, we were in a cab on our way home.
While I’m sure that the above anecdote might be surprising to some readers, it’s a way of life for many people of color. Time and time again, we are passed over by cab drivers who judge us simply because of the color of our skin. It should be noted that this act of racism isn’t limited to the everyday citizen. Jessica Williams, a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, recounted a story during a live set when a cab driver passed her and stopped for her white boyfriend. Actor Danny Glover has also fallen victim to similar discrimination, having filed a discrimination complaint in 1999 against New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. In this reality, where even black celebrities have a hard time hailing a cab, what is an everyday black American supposed to do? What form of transportation can we use to avoid being discriminated against? The answer, surprisingly, is a Taxi company; Uber.
Although most people think of Uber and related taxi services in terms of convenience, it has other benefits for people of color. Despite the fact that it doesn’t fully solve the problem of discrimination, Uber does one thing that changes the cab riding experience for people of color. It takes the power of selection away from the cab drivers and gives it to the customers. Usually, it’s the cab driver who selects the passenger. Now, however, it’s the passenger who chooses which taxi he or she would like to ride in. This switch is a huge bonus for people of color as we no longer have to stand on the corner of a street and helplessly watch as empty cabs pass us by. And this is a fact that hasn’t been lost on Uber. In a post on their website from March 2014, the company looked at their service in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Among other things, the company states that, “four out of every 10 Uber trips in Chicago serve neighborhoods defined as underserved by the city.”
These statistics that Uber provided are why I and many other black people choose Uber over regular taxi cabs on a consistent basis. Yes, the service costs more, but am I willing to spend a few more dollars if it means avoiding the trauma that comes with a racist experience? Absolutely. As an Afro-Latino, I deal with discrimination on a daily basis. With its service, Uber has given me a loophole in a very flawed system. I just wish such loopholes existed in other areas where I face discrimination.