“We should round them all up.”
No, not a cowboy. Or Hitler. A Cork taxi driver whose cab I had the misfortune of taking on Monday.
I rarely take taxis. When I do, I always chat to the driver; I find they can often be very well informed, as they spend more time listening to the radio than almost any other profession. There is a caricature of a conversation with a taxi driver that commonly begin with “I’m not racist, but…”, but in general I find they can be pretty interesting to talk to.
We discussed the weather, local radio, and then we moved on to the economy.
No mention of the IMF. No mention of the bankers. No mention of Fianna Fail, of Brian Cowen, or of the bond markets.
No, according to this driver, it’s the Latvians. And the Poles. They should be all rounded up, and sent home for stealing our jobs – like Sarkozy did with the Romanians. He said this without irony, after informing me that there were people turning down jobs for €12 an hour.
Like most people, I have sat silently through this rant before. But our friend caught me on a bad day – I was on my way to the dentist and not happy about it. So I wasn’t going to listen to ill-informed rubbish that blamed everyone else for our woes as xenophobia has done since time began.
“Actually,” I said, “that’s different. The Romanians entered Europe under a different treaty and have fewer rights to stay. The Poles and Latvians have as much right to be here as you or I have.”
But of course, he had an answer to that .
“Well, what about the blacks? Here with free buggies and houses and none of them working.”
Nobody in their right mind would go in a taxi with “a black”, he said.
I told him I had, and I would again.
I asked “what about if a taxi driver was a black Irish person?”
He didn’t understand.
“What about if it was an Irish person, who happened to be black? Just because someone is black doesn’t mean they don’t know where they’re going.”
He didn’t get me.
“What about black Irish people? There are black Irish people. One of my cousins is black,” I told him.
He chuckled. “Oh, well then you have an issue with what I’m saying.”
If you’re reading this, I did have an issue, but that’s not why. I had an issue with what you were saying because it was ignorant, misinformed, incoherent, and plainly racist.
I have a friend who refuses to get a taxi with a black driver, because of stories –dismissed as completely untrue by Gardaí – that black drivers are kidnapping women to rape them. This is one of the nastiest forms of racism; the black man/white woman sex threat story.
She and I were out one night and left a pub to go to a party, with some other women. The first taxi in the rank was a minibus, which would fit all of us, and happened to have a black driver. I hopped in, and she followed, dubiously. He was from Cameroon, friendly and full of chat.
The next morning my friend realised she had lost her wallet. It contained about €300 in cash, and she’d no idea where she had lost it – we’d been to a restaurant, three pubs, and the party, which was at her sister’s house.
After three days, her sister rang. The taxi driver had returned to the house every day since, looking for the red-haired woman who had left her wallet in his cab, as this was his only way of finding her. He hadn’t seen her, but caught her sister on the way in from work on day three. My friend got her wallet back, complete with the €300.
This story – true and unadorned – is merely an illustration. I’m not for a minute suggesting all African taxi drivers are paragons of virtue, any more than I believe all Irish taxi drivers, or indeed all Irish people, are.
Equally, I have been in taxis with drivers who didn’t have a notion of where they were going – Irish, African, and Eastern European. Better regulation would prevent that.
There is an ongoing territorial war between Irish and African taxi drivers in Cork. When we tried to ask the Taxi Regulator to comment on this recently, we were told our question was racist and wouldn’t be answered.
There is clearly a problem here, and it’s only a matter of time before there is violence. Free speech is a right in this country, but hate speech is a crime. The Regulator needs to wake up to the reality of our divided taxi ranks and do something about it, fast.
Our divided ranks
“We should round them all up.”