In 2007, I moved to San Francisco from Stockton – a place once named the most miserable city in Forbes, a place where empty storefronts and people hanging out in front of liquor stores are fairly familiar scenes. I attended the journalism program at SFSU and lived in the Sunset, but was immediately drawn to the Fillmore. I eventually started covering and writing stories about the Fillmore for my reporting class. While I researched the area’s rich history – including the disastrous urban renewal program, which pushed out many of the city’s African Americans in the 1940s through the 1970s – I began to understand why there aren’t many of us in San Francisco’s historically black neighborhood. Partly it’s because there just aren’t many black people here in the city these days (according to the 2010 census, African Americans make up 5.8 percent of SF).
It wasn’t until I graduated college that I realized that while I was writing about black businesses and black people, all my friends were white. This wasn’t a brand new concept to me. I spent my days in high school listening to indie rock and punk music. In Stockton, I was used to being the only black person at rock shows, and I was one of only two black girls in my graduating high school class. The racism I experienced in my hometown, while sparse, was overt and by strangers. But there was something different going on here in SF. Partying with the hipster white dudes in the Mission would start out fun, but our hangouts would end with me feeling conflicted. If these people were my friends, why did I feel so bad when I hung out with them?
Before all the hate mail rolls in, I’m not saying that San Francisco is racist and my experiences with assholes in the Mission can’t possibly be a statement about this city as a whole. That deserves a larger article. However, in this city that prides itself in being so progressive, it feels like we need to go back and master something both simple as well as incredibly complex – each other. We can learn to embrace our differences without making them a joke or a spectacle. It might take more effort than making bourbon ice cream, but I feel like we can do it.
However, most analysis of Uber’s costs and benefits leave out one huge piece of the appeal: the premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride.
In 1999, actor Danny Glover made headlines by filing a taxi discrimination claim in New York City, noting that cabs failed to stop for him due to the color of his skin. Good Morning America experimented with having a black man and a white man hail cabs again in 2009 and found that the racial profiling still continued. In 2010, Fernando Mateo, head of the New York State Federation of Cab Drivers, encouraged racial profiling in the name of safety. Though it has been over a decade since Danny Glover made the issue a national conversation, the landscape hasn’t changed much.
As a black woman, I am generally seen as less of a threat than my black male peers. But that doesn’t mean my business is encouraged or wanted.I stopped using DC cabs back in 2003, when they were using zoning practices that ensured every time I stepped into a cab I wouldn’t get out for less than $25.00, even if I was just going ten minutes down the street. As I learned DC better, I figured out all the routes serviced by buses and trains and committed to walking the rest. The addition of a bike share program to DC has almost completely eliminated my need for a cab rides. A few years later, I repeated the process in New York and Boston, having learned the hard way that I could not count on getting a cab if I needed one, no matter how I was dressed or where I was going.
I had dismissed Uber outright, until a friend convinced me to take a second look. My friend is young and white and, when I asked her why she chose to use the expensive black car service as opposed to any other DC cab, she informed me that her neighborhood isn’t well-liked by cab drivers. As it turns out, while my friend could normally get a cab to stop for her, she suffered the same issues with cabs that black urbanities usually face. Though it is technically illegal for drivers to ask where you are going before allowing you in the cab (New York has clear rules about this; DC has similar rules that are not on any governmental site), it is a common practice. So, my friend noted with a shrug, she’d rather pay the extra five bucks for a fuss-free experience than hail cab after cab, hoping to find a driver to take her to her next destination.