City Desk

One Perspective on Racial Progress: “Hailing While Black”


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

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  • MM

    True, true and true! Great read, thank you!

  • Tony

    This story is meaningless without a picture of the author please. Oh well, my opinion and five bucks will buy you a small cup of Starbucks. Whatev'.

  • Tony

    Oh and a picture of the victim, too. Doh!

  • The Advoc8te

    @Tony. Just take my word for it,I'm black and I'm cute. lol.

  • Mikey

    I think it's cutting DC cabbies slack to simply say that they must be racists. I'm a white guy who wears a suit to work everyday. My office is a couple of blocks away from one of the big-box hotels downtown, and many of the cabs have to pass right by my front door to get to said hotel. I am *routinely* ignored day AND night as the cabbies buzz by to get in line at that hotel, figuring a plump tip from an even plumper out-of-towner going to the airport trumps my need to get a ride. So yes, I've seen cab drivers ignore black folks, and have experienced this first-hand with my best friend, who is black, as we've done our own experiments at 13th & U Streets. But my own experience is equally as compelling. Are they racists or are they tipists?

  • Mikey

    P.S. The couple of times I've taken a cab to DCA from my office, they've pounced on me, presumably because I had a carry-on roller board.

  • downtown rez

    Racist, fareist, tipist, probably a whole lotta "ists".

    My guess- just a guess- is they don't want to go across the river because they don't think they'll get a return fare.

  • Mrs. D

    I used to run into cabs that wouldn't drive me back to the Hill, when I lived there, because it wasn't a big enough fare. Some of them told me this to my face. However, it is illegal for the cabbie to refuse to take you somewhere, so just get in and sit tight (and remind them that the passenger rights are posted right in front of your nose).,A,3,Q,487826,dctaxiNav,|30625|.asp#49

  • Mrs. D

    yeah, so I guess the machine ate that link...copy and paste the whole thing.

  • Dea

    I lived at 14th & P street when I was last in DC, right downtown practically and I had one "heck" of a time hailing cabs, I felt vulnerable, exposed and was ticked off most of the time. At some point I just started using a car service and all my problems ended.
    Their drivers were more professional, the cars were cleaner and everyone was happier.
    It cost more sure, but I didn't have to beg and wheedle. I totally hear you Nikki, been there and done that.
    I miss DC by the way and look forward to visiting soon! Happy New Year everyone.

  • Keith

    “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."

    PREACH. Ive given up on trying to catch a cab in Georgetown, and even cabbies at DCA are reluctant to take me to Ward 7.

  • Darrin Davis

    Nikki, very interesting observations. I live in Anacostia right across the Sousa Bridge from Capitol Hill. I don't seem to have as much trouble getting services, but I'm sure the deeper into the neighborhoods they have to venture, the more likely they are to profile.

  • The Advoc8te

    I'm curious as to why the DC hasn't done sting operations to discourage this behavior. Also knowing how limited transporation options are east of the river personally it really annoys me that the City Council rejected a proposal to extend circulator service in River East. So Arlington residents are more deserving of DC tax dollars than DC residents east of the river?

  • Truth Hurts

    I've had black taxi drivers tell me they sometimes won't pick up young black males because they're afraid of being robbed. Doesn't make it right, but does show that the issue affects taxi drivers as a whole regardless of race.

  • The Advoc8te

    @TruthHurts. I can understand a safety concern but that would make me afraid of criminals---not young black males. There shouldn't be an automatic assumption that "young black males" equal robbers.

    On the flip side I think cab drivers should understand that as passengers, especailly single women getting into cars with virtual strangers (cab drivers) we are taking a risk too. Everytime I get into a cab I am making an assumption that a) the purpose behind the wheel is indeed the cab driver b) he is a safe driver c) he isn't a serial killing rapist and I am expected to pay this stranger. Trust goes both ways.

  • The Advoc8te

    purpose = person

  • Juan Thompson

    I feel the fustration Advoc8te. I'm a black male who lives over the bridges and have had to use the "ole white folks muse" but I learned an interesting spin on this one. I stop by any of the local hotels in downtown and have the doorman flag one down. The doorman gets a tip, which helps him, and the cabbie must take me to my destination by law. And I will report if they don't to the authorities. They have to be held accountable. A slight hassle but everybody wins.

  • Grumpy

    I normally don't 'hail a cab' but I do take them from Addison Metro station and I find that a 3 dollar surcharge is on the meter the moment I enter. What used to be a 4 or 5 buck ride is now 7. Addison Metro cab stand services a high number of Black customers. I don't know if that surcharge is for 'me' or as a rule.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    The funny/sad thing about all of this is that the cabbies who avoid us will be in the same boat if they tried to catch a ride in the District.

  • The Advoc8te

    @Adrian. AMEN! That is so true!

    I do a weekly poll on Congress Heights on the Rise and this week's poll question is, "Have you had a problem getting cab service to or from River East (East of the River)?"

    It's a small poll but so far 78% of those who voted said "Yes" they have a problem getting service.

    This is an epedimic. I've been in the DC area since 95 and this does not seem to be getting better. I would argue it is getting worse.

  • greg

    the last time I checked, I've never had a white cab driver in DC. They are almost always from a minority that is discriminated against by whites. So who is to blame here if minority drivers don't pick up minorities?

  • X marks the spot

    I don't have a problem EVER hailing a cab...maybe because I am big and black...and for some reason the cab drivers feel that I am not a risk. Really, there's no way I could jump out of a cab and run. Also, if you are known for calling a cab...and are a frequently caller and a are on every cab-drivers speed-dial. That is my little secret...I have tipped fairly well...and have been given cab-drivers private cell phone numbers to call personally...for their driving expertise. Finally, there's the creme de la creme move...hail a cab, look at the driver...and shrug them is a humbling experience for the cab driver to say the least....and a brief sense of satisfaction for the person. River East,,,what duh? I always thought the moniker was East of the River.

    True story...had some white friends hail a cab for black female friend...we all went to the window... I asked my friends does this cab-driver looks worthy for my friends fare...then a friend would "act" like they are snapping the cab-driver's picture...saying if he doesn't take you to your friend to her destination...we will post the cab driver's photo on YOUTUBE.

  • The Advoc8te

    Has our Mayor commented or better still done something to fix this problem? Peter Nickles? The DC Taxicab Commission? The City Council? Anyone?

  • Sean

    Yeah a week or so ago I got passed by three cabs one right after the other. What's most demeaning is they actually stop/slow down, look at you, and THEN drive off. What I've always thought was odd about that is that you don't have to be five feet away from someone to tell they're black, so what's with the whole "slow drive by" thing? Similiar to Miss Peele, I was in a suit and had an overcoat on. Not like I was thugged out or something. And I live in Adams Morgan so it's not like I live some place with a bad rep or something. What's worse is when I finally got a cab, when I got in the cab driver kinda sucked his teeth and had this look of annoyance on his face. Then I told him I was going to AdMo and he calmed down. Funny thing about it was that he looked ROUGH. He definitely wouldn't have been able to get a cab if he hadn't been drivin one. I've never had a problem hailing cabs driven by black or white AMERICANS. Looking at the drivers that have passed me by, about 99% of em were from somewhere other than the US.

  • Sean

    My dream is that one day some white guy in a suit will go on a crime spree robbing cab drivers. Yeah I know it's wrong, but it would be some sort of justice to me. I'd also be curious to see if the result was that the drivers became wary of picking up white passengers, since that's their excuse for not picking US up. Although, I do recall some dumbass white guy killing a cab driver in VA a year or two ago. Are white people still able to get cabs in Arl/Alex/Fairfax? Hmmm...

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Sean- You're referring to the guy who left FUR nightclub and killed the cabbie because he didn't have the money to pay him. He was white and the cabbie was an immigrant. It was pretty fucking sad and I'm sure the white guy won't get the same punishment in court as a black guy would if he would have done the same.

    The crazy thing about racial profiling- the cabbie version, is that the immigrants who drive cabs, even the ones from Africa, have developed this perception of African Americans, because of the underlying tension that exists amongst minorities. Immigrants are mistreated by other "American" minorities because they are lower in the pecking order in this country.

    I'm on both end of this cause my parents are immigrants and I've made disparaging remarks about "other" immigrant types in the past. Oh the hypocrisy...