Many readers over the weekend began to debate how race plays a role in cab drivers favoring certain passengers over others. The latest reader to write in:
I’m white. Some years ago, after dinner in Midtown, a black acquaintance with a train to catch at Penn Station asked me to hail him a cab, explaining that taxis won’t stop for him because they don’t want to go all the way up to Harlem or out to Brooklyn or the Bronx. They want to go where they have a good chance of picking up another fare in short order. They don’t want to drive empty back to Midtown. It was an economic decision based on experience-informed probabilities.
Another reader makes a similar point but goes into much greater depth—and controversy:
In his essay, Doug Glanville says this:
I also have come to understand that drivers have major concerns about safety or about the economics of getting return rides after dropping someone off. But this is where bias is circular—you have to make a lot of assumptions to draw these sorts of conclusions without engaging with the passenger on any level.
But I knew what was going on: The driver had concluded I was a threat, either because I was dangerous myself or because I would direct him to a bad neighborhood (or give him a low tip).
He’s hand-waving these motivations away, basically indicating that they hold no weight and no justification. And it’s certainly true that no justification would make racism good, that nothing would make these events fair to a black person simply trying to get a ride home. But in coming to the conclusion that these taxi drivers simply “learned” their racism on arriving here and assuming they pull their biases out of thin air, Glanville has avoided the hard, real conversation for the easy, comfortable and ultimately useless one.
About money: Taxi drivers don’t make a lot of it.