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Yes, D.C. resident Nikki Peele thinks race relations have improved and, yes, she would count herself among those African-Americans who see themselves as better off than they were five years ago. With optimism for still better things ahead. But. There’s a but.
It involves the story of hailing a cab. And when she’s done telling it, the progress of which she earlier spoke doesn’t seem so tangible—even to her.
“Despite the fact that I have a college degree—I guess I’d be considered a professional person, I have this look of ‘I’ve accomplished something’—at the end of the day when I’m on the corner trying to hail a cab to get to my next destination, I’m smacked in the face again,” says Peele, who writes as the Advoc8te at Congress Heights on the Rise.
In other words, she has one hell of a time getting a cab.
How hard it is depends what she’s wearing (if she’s in a business suit, her chances go up), who else is around (if there’s a white guy 10 feet down the street, her chances go down), and what time it is (forget it if it’s after 11 p.m.).
“In the eyes of many, I’m still a black girl on the corner who may have a lot of problems,” she says. “What’s so shocking about that is that it’s been people of color who have passed me by. There is still a racial issue. There is still a stereotype issue.”
Various outlets and institutions weigh in from time to time on this age-old topic (for instance, here and here). But this week on her blog, Peele offered 10 “rules of engagement” for “hailing while black.” From the introduction:
The primary reason I bought my first car 10 years ago was because I got tired of cab drivers rolling right past me to pick up a non-black (usually white) fare. I remember one night after I had been working late in Georgetown and spending a ½ hour fruitlessly trying to hail a cab. I finally gave up and asked a white couple on the street to hail a cab for me—they did and five minutes later I was in a cab and on my way home to Northwest. That night I decided it was time to buy a car.
In those days I didn’t think it could get any more difficult, boy was I was wrong, it could and would become much more difficult to get taxicab service in the District. Imagine being black AND trying to get a cab to drive you to “Southeast”, talk about mission impossible. Coordinating a cab ride to Southeast while black becomes a full fledge undercover operation full of psychological analysis, bait-and-switch, and good old fashion moxie.
Her rules: Stage 1 is the “Capture,” in which she recommends identifying a sympathetic non-black person—”the whiter the better,” she explains—to hail a cab on your behalf. Also, be sure to be in the cab “with the door firmly closed” before telling the driver where you are going.
Stage 2 is the “Misdirection.” “I’ve learned from experience that the best way to win a fight is to avoid a fight, so when telling the cab driver your destination keep this in mind,” she writes. “Never, ever ask a cab driver if he will take you to Southeast (you might as well get out of the cab at this point); I find it best to deal in a general direction (down South Capital Street) or a landmark (National Stadium) rather than providing a specific east of the river address.”
If Peele needs a cab from home—where there’s no option but to give the address—she starts calling around two hours ahead. And she calls every company in the book. Even if they say they’re coming, she assumes they’re not (and a lot of times they don’t).
Before she got laid off from her job as director of operations for a legal staffing company 16 months ago, she traveled a fair amount, and would always have to make a calculation. Is it worth it to undergo the time-consuming call-around? Or better just to drive herself to the airport and fork over the money for parking?
It’s not just getting a cab, either, Peele says. Try getting a pizza.
“You just adjust,” she says. “I think as a person of color, we have these situations—they come up, they’re unfair, they’re illogical, and most times they’re illegal, but you just have to adjust. You have to get from Point A to Point B. We succeed in spite of those things.”
A parting thought: “No matter how bad I think it is for women of color or people in River East in general, I know it’s much worse for men of color.”
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery