Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Can I Get A Cab? It Appears Not

Taxi cab i i

Not all is harmonious in so-called post-racial Washington, D.C. Despite high-level strides, on the street level, long-standing inequalities still exist. Tell Me More guest host Allison Keyes shares her frustrations with being repeatedly passed over by available taxi cabs in the nation’s capital. iStockphoto hide caption

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Taxi cab

Not all is harmonious in so-called post-racial Washington, D.C. Despite high-level strides, on the street level, long-standing inequalities still exist. Tell Me More guest host Allison Keyes shares her frustrations with being repeatedly passed over by available taxi cabs in the nation’s capital.

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Today, we hear from Tell Me More guest host Allison Keyes.

Here I am, in so-called post-racial Washington, D.C., happily walking out of a theater where I've just watched the opera Otello on a giant movie screen.

I stand in the soft glow of the theater's marquee on an otherwise fairly dark block in this up-and-coming neighborhood — H Street in Northeast Washington. I raise my arm, trying to hail the cab I see headed in my direction with its friendly little light on.

The taxi stops before it gets to me — and I can see the driver asking a young white couple leaning on a car if they want a ride. After they wave him off he continues up the block to where I stand, a few steps into the street so he doesn't miss my raised arm.

But instead of pulling over — he swerves into the opposite lane of traffic, floors the accelerator and hurtles — just in case my outstretched hand sullies the chrome on his door handle.

Perhaps my afro scared him?

Can I just tell you — THIS REALLY burns my britches. And they burned more as it happened three more times that night.

One driver looked white and the others had medium to dark complexions. One, a dark-skinned older man wearing a cap, looked like my grandfather — except that he was backing the cab away and turning to drive in other direction as I walked out into the middle of the street to block his way. I hope his granddaughter has a car if she looks like me!

The drama of getting a cab — for African-Americans in particular, but often for those of almost any brown-skinned race — is no better than it was more than a decade ago when actor Danny Glover made a public stand against New York City's taxi and limousine commission because he said five yellow cabs refused to stop for him in a single day because he is black.

And I get that driving a cab is a dangerous job and that the drivers are at risk. In 2008, 19.3 taxi and livery drivers died per 100,000 workers. That's on par with coal mining — an industry in which 22 out of 100,000 workers died the same year.

NPR's Scott Simon did a piece last month about some of the challenges taxi drivers face — from working 12 to 14 hours to make ends meet in this tough economy to looking for fares in neighborhoods with higher crime rates that they used to avoid.

Well guess what. The people who live, or play, in those neighborhoods, need to get to work or to dinner — or, yes, to a club — and back as well.

I'll get drama from people who say I am making this a race issue — but it is impossible not to when I can stand on any corner from DuPont Circle to Southwest D.C. by Nationals Park to Chinatown, not far from our offices, and be repeatedly passed over by cabs who slow, see my skin color and afro and keep driving — or more infuriating — pass me and stop for a white guy 10 feet away.

One cabbie, who did finally pick me up, in my cute leggings, four-inch heels and silver coat, tried to explain the actions of his colleagues. He is African, as are some of the drivers he is friends with, and he says they get robbed when they drive to neighborhoods like Southwest, Southeast and Northeast Washington — where some residents have no jobs, few resources or are simply bad news. The driver says they used to not go such places at all. Think trying to hail a cab in parts of Brooklyn or — worse — the Bronx, or on the West Side of Chicago.

And — I should note — the African cabbie says when he got here, other drivers told him to beware of picking up people of color because he might get robbed, and many had horror stories of being attacked or robbed.

But now they are forced to look for passengers in places they avoided before, and the driver said they are risking their lives. Drivers have been attacked in cities all over the country — and two were killed in New Orleans less than four months apart.

Again, the danger to the drivers here is not lost on me. But refusing to pick up people of color isn't going to solve that problem.

Maybe there's a way for cabbies, city officials and people who live in less than hoity-toity neighborhoods to sit down and work this out. Because obviously the fines and penalties that exist for refusing to pick people up in many cities aren't doing the trick.

But until then, I won't be risking my life waiting for some cabbie to pick me up. I'll just drive. That way I know I'll get home.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues