Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Racing to judgment: A play in two (different but related) acts.

Wednesday morning GMA announced that it had reprised its memorable experiment involving blacks and taxi drivers, to wit: Are cabbies still disinclined to pick up black passengers? GMA first performed the (admittedly unscientific but nonetheless compelling) test about a decade ago, after actor Danny Glover touched off a cultural firestorm in 1999 by recounting his difficulties at hailing a cab in Manhattan one night. Of course, this was back in the days before the nation had solved its racial divide by electing Barack Obama.

Anyway, the upshot: Yes, taxi drivers remain reluctant to pick up black fares. Racis
m remains alive and unwell in Americato the surprise of no one, certainly not duly despairing GMA anchor and crusading telejournalist Robin Roberts. But here's the thing. Only at the very end of the report does Roberts add, quite in passing, this: "We should mention that black cab drivers also bypass black passengers."

Folks, that is not a mere footnote in this story...and Roberts shouldn't have treated it as such.* In reality, that one throwaway line would appear to be a game-changer. I'm not implying that discrimination is justified simply because black cabbies are also guilty of it. Every
American is entitled to cab service, and somehow we must address this inequity and fix it. I just wonder if we can still attribute this to racism when it's practiced by members of a given race against other members of the same race. Perhaps all types of discrimination are not racism, at least not as we commonly understand it. As I've pointed out before, insurance companies discriminate every dayagainst teenagers, males in particular, who pay ransom rates in exchange for being allowed to drive their cars legally. Nobody rises up in protest against this except the teenagers themselves; a half-century of sobering statistics tell us all we need to know about the risks posed by younger male drivers. Similarly, inasmuch as all cab drivers share a quite-reasonable desire to avoid being robbed and/or killed, one surmises that they regard the avoidance of black fares as a pragmatic course of action, given the per capita demographics on crime in general and capital murder in particular.

Let there be no mistake: This is terribly unfair to the average black American, who poses no threat to cabbies or anyone else. However, if GMA (and a comparable exercise undertaken a while back by 20/20) can be believed, cabbies of every race and background have concluded that the easiest way to avoid the dangerous black passengers is simply to avoid black passengers altogether.

You may recall that even Jesse Jackson (in)famously admitted, "There is nothing more painful to me than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then to look around and see someone white and feel relieved." Is
that racism? You tell me.


Also on GMA was Jenny McCarthy, purported sex freak and mother of an autistic child. Now that courts have formally ruled that lawsuits predicated on a link between vaccines and autism are baseless, Ms. McCarthy has shifted her outrage to other alleged causes: chemicals in paint and carpet, toxins in the environment, etc. Hinting at some massive cover-up, she fumed to her GMA interviewer, "It makes me mad th
at they don't face the fact that this is an epidemic!" Which is not unlike what Jenny was saying about the childhood-vaccine link as recently as last year. Crusaders like McCarthy toggle from one campaign to another, prematurely and recklessly leaping onto each new bandwagon of (presumed) causation, always projecting certitude about the new object of their ire...only to be proved wrong, each time, when the science comes in. That deters them for about 10 minutes, till they find a new conspiracy/crusade to fixate on.

Jenny.... We all know you've been through a lot, and you're hurt and upset. We understand the love and empathy you feel for little Evan. Just do us a favor: Wait for some actual research to tell us what's really going o
n here, then feel free to embrace that cause as ardently as you please.

In the meantime, go home, celebrate your beautiful son, and shut up.

* I suppose I do have to give her credit for mentioning it at all.


Gordon Bressack said...

Just a note on Taxi Racism

Long ago, before my successful career as a wit and raconteur, I was briefly a cab driver in NYC. I can tell you that I am no racist, or, at least, not someone who necessarily judges others based on race, but I often didn't pick up black passengers during the busier hours. Why? Not because I feared for my life or suspected that those passengers would rob me or stiff me, but because, more often than not, they wanted to be driven to The Bronx or Brooklyn. To the NYC cabbie, that means a one way fare. The possibility of picking up a fare who wants to go to Manhattan is slight. Time is money to a cab driver. So, what appears to be racist, in this case, might not be. It's Bronx-ist!

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for your take on Byron Katie...

Please, oh please?

Cosmic Connie said...

Re Jenny McCarthy: I was halfway paying attention to CBS' Early Show this AM while sitting in the living room reading yesterday's newspaper and spending quality time with the cats, who also wanted to read the newspaper, or at least sit on it so I couldn't read it.

Anyway, on comes Jenny McCarthy, along with the co-author of her new book about preventing and healing autism. The two were interviewed by that balding gray-haired guy on Early Show who always tries to act so hip and cool. He was playing the part of the earnest interviewer, leaning eagerly towards Jenny, using earnest hand gestures, using his intense-interviewer voice, asking what I suppose he was trying to pass off as hard-hitting questions… well, maybe he was just trying to look down her blouse.

But the teaser before the segment had mentioned "controversy," so I thought that at least there would be a mention of the legal rulings about the vaccine-autism connection. But nooooo. The "controversy" Mr. Hip-n-Cool addressed was that some people might possibly have already tried the things Jenny and the co-author had recommended, and their kids were still autistic. To which Jenny replied that yes, there are some kids for whom these things won't work, but why give up on your kid just because it hasn't worked for other kids? Jenny pretty much got a free pass from Mr. Hip-n-Cool. Overall, the segment seemed to paint her as a brave warrior who isn't afraid of controversy.

Rolling my eyes...

Anonymous said...

Michael Moore did a great job of covering the NY Taxi situation 15 years ago (including a black taxi driver not picking up a Black passenger)- back when Moore was funny.

Elizabeth said...

Alright, about Jenny and GMA.

Steve, why do you expect solid information from a program like GMA in the first place? It's all fluff and it will be fluff forever. The point in booking Jenny is to fill a spot with a good-looking, current celebrity, and if she happens to stir some "trouble," that's even better.

For the celebrity, the point is to increase her visibility and bottom line, by peddling whatever product/idea she's currently selling.

There is absolutely nothing of substance on American network TV. Nothing. Apart from entertainment, it's all about selling soap, or, more accurately, crap that no one needs. GMA is no exception.

Connie, those cats of yours... Mhm mhm mhm.

Anonymous said...

Thank God you mentioned that twit Jenny McCarthy, who by the way, was advocating children not get vaccinated. Do you know how many ill-informed parents are doing this? Too many to count and now I have to worry about my children getting a disease from a non-vaccinated child. Thank you Jenny McCarthy!

Anonymous said...

her kid is still autistic shes either dillusional or a liar, poss both.

M said...

Seconding the request for a look at Byron Katie!!

Steve Salerno said...

Folks, I have to say, there is no topic on which I get more mail (specifically of the "you need to look into this!" type) than Byron Katie. I would love to do something meaningful on Katie...the key word being "meaningful." As I explained at least once or twice before, Katie is the kind of subject that deserves a serious journalistic examination--much like the treatment given Tony Robbins in my book. That took a lot of time and diligence (and "legaling") to put together. I don't want to just blow this off in a few terse and/or snide paragraphs. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right. So please bear with me. Keep reading, and one day perhaps your patience will be rewarded.

M said...

Regarding Byron Katie...

Fair enough, Steverino, and thanks for the 'splanation!

Dimension Skipper said...

It shows how NOT tuned in I am to the SHAM scene that I had to Google BK. I don't recall ever seeing or hearing even a hint about her until this post. And yet obviously she must be an up-and-comer (if not an already-here) SHAM presence. Heck, I was even surprised to find out she's a woman (how'd she get the name "Byron", I wonder...).

I originally found Steve's blog when I Googled about Lucinda Bassett, which I was prompted to do only after hearing her ads over and over and over on local radio. I came for Lucinda, but stayed for the politics (at election time) and subsequent rabble rousing sessions. ;-)

There are others like Bassett where I see and hear ads through the day. Mostly I just ignore them (well, change the radio station actually), but once in a while I get annoyed by one enough that it finally piques (or is it "peaks?") my curiosity and spurs a Google session.

Another one I looked up once was the guy who advertises "How to turn your child's attitude around in one minute or less." (I won't mention his name or the official name of his program/product.) It was always the "...or less" that kind of got me—what, a minute isn't quick enough? (And it always reminds me of the 8 minute abs, 7 minute abs, 6 minute abs scene from, I think, There's Something About Mary.)

I can't imagine there could possibly be any truth to that statement. He even stresses it works with kids diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. But if the statement and therefore time frame were true, then why wouldn't the magical solution have been thought of and passed along by numerous people, whether selling a product or not, and be freely available all over the web?