It’s a running joke that Black men can’t catch a cab. And this also happens to Black men who are wealthy and famous. In 1989, actor Danny Glover filed a formal complaint because several cabs refused to stop for him, and singer Lenny Kravitz even wrote a song about his experience. The latest high-profile Black man to suffer this form of discrimination is TV weatherman Al Roker.
Roker took to Twitter to share his frustration after a New York cab driver drove past him, only to pick up a white passenger. Roker tweeted, “Filed a complaint today after getting passed up again by a NYC Yellow cab. Cabbie picked up a white guy a block away. Wonder why Uber wins?”
Roker acknowledged he experienced something that ordinary Black people deal with on a daily basis.
“This happens to folks of color every day,” he wrote. “And while most cabbies do their job, there are those ignorant, racist ones who hurt the others…What really hurts, my 13 yr. old boy was with me and asked why the cabbie passed us. I said, ‘Nick, ignorant people make dumb choices.’”
Taxi and Limousine Commission Chair Meera Joshi acknowledged receiving a complaint. However, she said discriminating against passengers was illegal.
“Service refusal goes to the core of the taxi industry’s social contract with the riding public and it will not be tolerated,” she said.
Being discriminated against by cab drivers is a real thing, which was illustrated in an experiment carried out by ABC News. They had two men, one white and one Black, try to hail a New York cab. ABC News’ experiment revealed that the time of day has a lot to do with cab driver behavior. They found that during daylight hours cabs stopped for both men, but after the sun went down only three out of 10 cabs stopped for the Black passenger. The implication is that cab drivers fear being robbed or attacked by Black men at night, because they buy into the stereotype that all Black men are criminals. This discrimination is ironic because many cab drivers are also men of color. However, some cab drivers defend racial profiling and say its a matter of safety.
“You know, sometimes it is good we are racially profiled, because the God’s honest truth is that 99 percent of the people that are robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are Blacks and Hispanics,” said Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Cab Drivers, after a cab driver was shot in 2010.
However, technology may offer a solution to this persistent problem. According to Latoya Peterson, a writer for Racialious, a blog about race and pop culture, the ride sharing company Uber might offer a solution to Black passengers who can’t catch a cab. Although Uber has been criticized for being unregulated and not offering its employees benefits, Peterson admits she is a fan of the service, even though she has to pay a little more. She finally got tired of being passed up by cab drivers or drivers refusing to service her neighborhood. Peterson said paying the extra price was a necessary evil.
“I shouldn’t have to pay for premium service to get a racism-free ride experience–yet that is often the choice that I am faced with,” said Peterson. “All my years of being carless taught me that this type of racism, like street harassment, is often part of the landscape when you rely on mass transit options to get around. And yet, there isn’t much of a choice here.”