Aug. 17 2015 06:56 PM

Confronting bigotry and paying less than cab fare to do it


My husband and I were still giddy about the convenience of Uber during what was our first Uber ride two weeks ago. We were headed to the airport when, thanks to the Black Lives Matter sign staked into the brown grass of our front yard, the driver felt compelled to Go There.

Our host had apparently put on his Sherlock cap and anticipated us to be black folks before we'd so much as walked out the door with our luggage, which speaks to both the rarity of white people joining the struggle, and this guy's lack of investigative prowess.

I'm better at putting two and two together and I'd Cumberbatched this guy by the time I'd buckled my seatbelt. Using all available clues—the Tommy Bahama Costco shirt among them—I'd surmised that he was not a team player. My husband had done the same thing and we side-eyed knowing we were in trouble before our chauffeur laughed and said, "I didn't expect you guys to be white!"

In moments, we were cruising westward on Interstate 8 and I was calmly, respectfully explaining to him that you don't have to be black to stand in solidarity with the black community; to take an overt stance against the violence being committed against black people.

And then the needle dragged across the record.

"This is just my opinion, but..." And here it comes: "...if black people would just quit committing crimes, then they wouldn't get killed by police."

Now, Iím gonna back up for a moment right here. Five years ago—or maybe even two if I'm being completely honest—these words would have led to me being seven different kinds of hair-on-fire vitriolic before demanding that he pull the car over and let me the hell out.

And sometimes, you know, I still get pushed there because the inhumanity is enraging. And I'm not talking just about the ignorance of people like this, or the repugnant violence being perpetrated against black people (nearly 60 years to the day after the murder of Emmett Till and shit is still the same). I'm talking about our larger system of oppression, the tentacles of which reach into every facet of American life and poison us all. I'm talking about our rebranded Jim Crow, our re-packaged slavery that every day terrorizes black Americans.

The Fusion documentary Ferguson: A Report From Occupied Territory, shines a dim light on the many municipalities in St. Louis County colluding to make a profit off of, and at the same time destroy, black lives in a highly functional economic parasitism.

Two black men in the film detailed having been stopped and ticketed for jaywalking across a street with no sidewalks or crosswalks. True story. Another resident described the anxiety caused by his drive to and from work every day; he sighs with relief when he gets to his destination without incident.

Mother Jones recently ran a scathing piece about this exact kind of economic warfare called "Police Shootings Won't Stop Unless We Stop Shaking Down Black People." (Interestingly, it includes a breakdown in dollars of a sinister ticketing policy in our sparkling San Diego.) In this exposé, Walter Scott serves as the example of what is happening to so many black people.

Writer Jack Hitt says, Scott was "[a] man of modest means trapped in an exhausting hamster wheel: He would get a low-paying job, make some child support payments, fall behind on them, get fined, miss a payment, get jailed for a few weeks, lose that job due to absence, and then start over at a lower-paying job. From all apparent evidence, he was a decent schlub trying to make things work in a system engineered to make his life miserable and recast his best efforts as criminal behavior."

A decent schlub made to appear criminal. How about them apples?

All of this is nothing short of sustained terrorism that we white people do not ever experience. Meanwhile, over in here in this Other America, a large percentage of us are, at this very second, stoned as all get out and changing lanes without indicating.

So, yeah, I'm pretty damn pissed off about it all and my natural inclination is to hurl a few stingers at Mister Uber Driver, who is ruining my vacation that hasn't started yet. But I've decided that is the height of irresponsibility and privilege. So instead, my personal work is to stay in the discomfort and the conversation. Even with the Unreachables.

"If black people would just quit committing crimes..." he said.

"Do you mean crimes like not indicating a lane change like you just did?" I asked. "Like you're doing again right now? Or what about the many who weren't committing crimes? Like Rekia Boyd and Yvette Smith and Tamir Rice and Samuel DuBose and the Jonathans: Ferrell and Sanders and Crawford..." until he cut me off because we both knew I could keep going.

The remaining 15 minutes included a primer from both Sam and me on red-lining, generational wealth and educational access. At the airport he asked us not to give him a negative rating; in exchange, we asked him to reconsider things we'd said.

And then we walked away, without giving him a tip.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @theaarynb.


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