Asian American Taxi Drivers: Simultaneously Victims And Perpetrators Of Racism

After the September 11 attacks, Asian American cab drivers, particularly those of South Asian origin, were the victims of racism as some Americans spat upon, cursed, and even stabbed any one they thought was “Middle Eastern.” At the same time, these drivers have been accused of being unwilling to pick up black and Hispanic passengers.  In this column in the International Business Times, Palash Ghosh takes a look at this contradiction.

Taxi drivers are clearly not the elite model minorities of the recent Pew ReportMany took a big hit during the last recession, and “taxi driver” has been cited as the 10th most dangerous profession in the United States. As mentioned above, many have endured a lot of abuse after September 11.  Says Ghosh:

“One Sikh driver once joked to me that he was called “Arab,” “Muslim” and “terrorist” so often that he was considering converting! Of course, he was kidding, but his comment underscored the absurdity of someone mistaking a Sikh for a Muslim, as these two groups have historically been bitter enemies in Northern India.”

He also talked to the taxi drivers about the accusations that they don’t pick up blacks and Hispanics. Most were reluctant to talk about that, worried about the taxi commission, but one openly admitted that he thought that black people were all violent criminals out to rob him. When Ghosh asked him if he would pick up a black man in a suit and tie, he said he wasn’t sure.

Hugh B. Price, a former president of the National Urban League, in an article saved here, wrote in 1999 about the racism by South Asian cabbies against blacks:

“The prejudice some … recent immigrants to America now hold against African-Americans is an old pattern in American life: If you’re a newcomer, an ‘outsider,’ it’s always been clear that the way to become an American is to join the general prejudice against black Americans.”

Ghosh points out that Price neglects the fact that those same drivers are subjected to racism on a daily basis from Americans, white and black.  While that is true,  a key question is where do the cab drivers learn these prejudices. Price cites a Senegalese cab driver who told his friend in Senegal that he was moving to Harlem.  The friend told him that he would killed. Says the cab driver, “That guy’s never been to this country! Where did he learn Harlem is bad?”

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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