Friday, April 28, 2006

Manhattan in Black and White

Keith Boykin ponders an aspect of New York life that might be news to many people: the difficulty black men (and women, I should add) face simply hailing a cab.

He discusses various reasons why this is so. My unscientific gut feeling is that this particular brand of discrimination is based less on the perception of lower tips than on the unwillingness of many cab drivers to go to Harlem or to the outer boroughs. Especially during non-rush hours, most taxi drivers wouldn't see the point in driving another ten or twenty blocks just to find that customer who might grace them with an extra fifty cents or a buck.

When I lived in the Bronx, however, I endured countless incidents when taxi drivers in Manhattan told me to get out of the car after I directed them to my neighborhood--even though they are required by law to drive passengers anywhere within New York City boundaries. And I do not mean to imply that old-fashioned racism doesn't play a role as well. Although many cab drivers are people of color, as Keith acknowledges, not all that many seem to be black.

His post reminds me of a boisterous evening many years ago at a Midtown eatery with a friend whose caustic and spontaneous wit is atypical for a politician and who eventually became the first openly gay City Council member from Harlem. We emerged from the restaurant and, after saying our good-byes, he gently shoved me out to the street and half-jokingly commanded, "Now get out there and hail me a cab! Why do you think I have white friends?"