As the clock struck midnight and November 20th rolled in I thought about how 1.20.09 was emblazoned in my memory. I recall seeing bumper stickers years ago that had the date and “Bush’s Last Day” proudly marked. I waited for the date and was glad to see it arrive. I was in DC for inauguration weekend, so like many others, I was out partying. I knew that I had to get up at the crack of dawn, so I left my celebration and attempted to hail a cab to my residence. The weather in DC was a bitter, bitter cold, but I didn’t worry because as I approached a major thoroughfare I saw an ample number of cabs. I saw people hopping in and out of cabs and raised my hand to hail one. As I stood with my hand out, buzzing from the revelry of the weekend, taxis buzzed past me.
I then, being strategic decided to switch my location because maybe I was not in an ideal place for them to stop. I tried the corner, then the middle of the block, then another intersection. Finally, I ran up to a cab that was dropping off a fare and the driver informed me that he was a Virginia cab and he could not make DC stops. At that moment I thought, “Oh, cab culture and rules are different here” and he informed me which cabs could make DC stops. I then returned to my mission, newly informed and with renewed hopes of getting out of the cold. Unfortunately this hope was dashed as cab driver after cab driver, White and Black, buzzed past my outstretched arm and picked up the other fares on the block, who were White. As I watched another fare get out, I rushed to a DC cab and he locked the door as they exited. I tried the handle, he cracked the window. I told him my destination, he paused looked at me and said, “I’m not going that way” and sped off. At that moment I nearly lost it.
I began calling my friends from DC frantically, because I was sure I didn’t understand how to get a taxi in the city. To my chagrin when they answered my queries that told me, “No, you’re doing it right.” After another few minutes in the cold, I walked up to a cab stopped at a light and motioned and requested he roll down his window. Initially, the driver, an Ethiopian man, wasn’t making eye contact with me but then looked at me and cracked his window. I told him my destination, he looked me up and down and then unlocked the door.
As I sat in the back of the cab I fumed. I texted friends, updated my statuses on twitter and facebook, and prayed for serenity. One of my friends called and I quietly explained my frustration with hailing a taxi. I didn’t want to offend the driver who picked me up, so I didn’t discuss it in much detail. I really didn’t want my inability to get a taxi to weigh me down, though it was. As I paid the driver and thanked him, he said, “You know, I heard you on the phone and I know you’re mad.” I prepared myself for the, “It’s not because you’re Black, it’s because ________.” However, I was shocked, he said, “I know exactly what you’re feeling.” I listened, “I’ve been driving a cab for years and it’s really unfair. People see a Black person and just don’t stop, like there are only Black criminals. I’ve been driving long enough to know there are Black and White criminals and people know that but they’ll let one bad incident or idea spoil them.” He continued on, “I even get it. When my taxi was in the shop and I needed to get a cab and drivers passed me by and I watched other people get picked up.” He confessed, “I only got picked up because my friend was driving by in a taxi and saw me.” At that moment, my eyes began to well with tears.The driver’s honesty and courtesy resonated with me. He said, “It’s a shame we have this beautiful celebration and a Black president, but still this happens.”
The incident didn’t end up souring the 20th of January, but it really demonstrated to me the frailty of being Black in America. While we celebrated the arrival of our highest ranked political official ever, the way that race is lived in everyday may not shift much. I am overjoyed that the Obamas challenge stereotypes and have seeped through the pores of seemingly non-porous barriers, but that doesn’t often mean much for how we get along each day. Seeing race is not the issue, the system of racism is. Racism will continue to impair our interaction and ability to trust each other until we really begin to grapple with its pernicious nature. While the world turns it attention to the its new Commander-in-Chief, I wonder when it will turn its attention to challenging our own prejudices and stereotypes.