After Barack Obama’s riveting “A More Perfect Union” speech at the Constitution Center in March, the nation’s first black presidential nominee was lucky he didn’t have to hail a Philly cab to get to his next stop. He might have had a hard time.
One night not long after Obama’s appearance, I caught a taxi downtown. We had gone a half-block on Market Street when the driver cut off a black motorist. A brief but unremarkable shouting match ensued, finishing as my driver turned left onto 18th. “These n—–s,” he said to me, angry eyes connecting with mine in the rearview mirror, “are ruining the city.”
I squirmed — surprised, silent, not knowing what to do — but got out thinking it an isolated incident. Remarkably, I had two more such run-ins within the next three weeks. “Send them all back to Africa in body bags,” one clean-cut white driver said to me, relating a story about a fellow driver stiffed by a black passenger. Three times in three weeks? I was shocked.
Repugnant, yes, but shocking, no, said Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill when I relayed my stories. Hill, an urban studies scholar and Fox News political contributor, thinks that these types of taxicab confessions — and transgressions — happen often and just go unreported. He points to New York’s notorious rep for discriminating against black riders — actor Danny Glover made headlines in the 1990s when his claim of racial profiling resulted in the suspension or revocation of some 500 cabbies’ licenses. And while Philly may look better on paper than New York — the Parking Authority reports an average of about two racism-related complaints per month, usually resulting in fines — Hill believes that racism on the roads in the City of Brotherly Love is even more intense than in other cities.
“In New York, cabs just won’t pick you up — it’s inferential racism,” Hill says. “But in Philadelphia, they can be so blatant. Once, after I insisted on a four-block drive, the driver said to me, ‘You people are so lazy.’ I don’t think he meant people in suits.”
Encounter a racist cabbie? File a report with the PPA at 215-683-9440.