Being a cab driver is hard — but for many African-Americans, finding a cab is harder.

When New York Times columnist and author Charles M. Blow recently tweeted about about the struggle to get picked up by cabbies in New York he was flooded with responses from celebrities and ordinary people alike. “So very hard for me to feel sorry for NYC taxi drivers after having to explain to my kids for the Nthteenth time why the open cab passed us by and picked up the white person on the next block,” Blow wrote before sharing a 2017 New York Times article about how many drivers are struggling to pay for their taxi medallions because of competition from companies like Uber.


The tweet instantly struck a chord with those who follow Blow and many recognizable names began chiming in with their own stories of being ignored by cabbies  — who would then pick up white or other non-black passengers moments later. “The worst time was when my youngest was 12, pre-Uber, his ankle was sore after an unfortunate collision with a cleat during soccer,” MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted. “As cab after cab passed us, switching their lights off or picking up other (non-black) people, he was getting so dejected. Such a helpless feeling.”

According to the 2016 Taxicab Fact Book, which is put out by New York City, about 42 percent of yellow cab drivers were born in South Asia.


Reid went on to say that she and her tired son went on to take the subway and that she filed a complaint with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission when they finally arrived home. “The cabbies being brown made it worse,” she added.

Emmy-winning actor David Alan Grier also chimed in. “I got n a cab n told the driver I was going to Harlem. He said he wouldn’t take me. I calmly told him that was against the law. He stopped the cab grabbed his meter n left me in the cab n walked off,” he wrote, adding a hashtag with an expletive for good measure.

Sadly, this issue is nothing new. In fact, it might be a problem as old as the taxi industry itself. Back in 1999, the actor Danny Glover told the Taxi and Limousine Commission that five cabs passed him while he was with his daughter Mandisa and her friend. A sixth cab did stop, but then allegedly pushed the actor when he requested to ride in the front seat.

Glover told reporters then that he was particularly sad that his daughter had to experience that moment as a college student. “It happens to her, it happens to countless people every single day,” Glover told the New York Times in November 1999. “The fact that I’m a celebrity, the fact that I’m visible, allows me to draw attention to this.”

While riders who are discriminated against can do things like file complaints with the TLC (as Reid did) and turn to ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft to get a car home safely, they should not have to. Elatedly, the South Asian community should stop pretending that racism among community members — elders and millennials alike — does not exist and instead begin to have tough conversations about these issues with our families and friends.

It’s important to note here that racism is not restricted to those drivers who refuse to stop for black passengers. It also happens when doctors make disparaging comments about certain patients or when business owners express unease about a certain set of customers. Or when relatives stop talking to their nieces and nephews when they start dating an African American partner.

Too often, South Asian Americans ignore these comments when they happen in our hearing. “Uncle is just old,” we tell ourselves. “It would be impolite to say something.” But it is time to make a concerted effort to start fighting these battles at home. (The activist and author offers some suggestions as to how to start doing this in her book We Too Sing America.) Because if we don’t stop the cycle, who will?

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