Do you all remember that show Taxicab Confessions from the mid-Nineties? Passengers were filmed with hidden cameras as they opened up and shared interesting/shocking stories with their cabbies. Yesterday I felt like I was on the show -- only the tables were turned and the cabbie was doing all of the confessing.
He picked me up at my hotel and as we headed off to the airport, we engaged in pleasantries. He told me how long he had been living where he is, he talked a bit about his family, and we laughed about the weather. Pretty friendly for a cab ride, but I was comfortable with our banter -- that is, until he got a little too comfortable...
Not to worry -- it wasn't too scandalous. No weird sex stories or anything (which I think was popular on the show). Just an earful (and I mean an earful) of his interesting thoughts on people. Can you tell I am trying to be diplomatic?
Ok, no more stalling. Basically, he shared two main points with me as he passionately argued his case, his eyes eagerly darting back and forth between the road and the rear-view mirror to glance at my reaction. The points (in his words exactly):
(a) black people make scary neighbors and
(b) Chinese people can sleep standing up and in any position
I sure hope that you just exclaimed "what?" because I sure did, both when he first said it, and again, now that I am writing it. Random. Scary. Wow. He fervently believed in both of these things. Do you want to know why? Well...rather than give you the background on his two points and the reasons that explain why he believes both of these things to be true, can we just agree to chalk it up to another case of someone making assumptions and coming to weird conclusions about people based on their ethnicity? We've seen it before. It has to stop. But here it is again.
I am actually more interested in discussing what was going on in that cab that led to this interaction...and how I decided to respond.
The atmosphere was pleasant.
It was sunny, we had the windows down a bit, we were sharing little details about ourselves and laughing. We got fooled into trusting each other quickly. This happens all the time. Or at least, I feel like it happens to me all the time (I guess I have my unadulterated friendliness to blame). He let his guard down, and I let mine down. He felt he could share his real thoughts with me, and I expected him to not ruin the pretty day with his racism. I ask for too much.
He thought I would agree.
One thing we have to remember about people who assume is that they make assumptions about many things (for efficiency's sake, can we just call them assumers from now on? Asses for short? :)). This assumer basically came to conclusions about black people and Chinese people from his limited view of them...but the assuming didn't stop there. He went on to assume that I would agree. I think he perceived us to be from "the same group." Of course, I find it entirely problematic when people assume all individuals from a certain ethnic group will think similarly on everything. That's just not realistic. And it's sad that there's an unspoken code (you all know what I am talking about) that certain ethnic groups are meant to dislike certain other ethnic groups (usually for the most ridiculous of reasons...or for no reason at all). If you don't fit into this schema, then there must be something wrong with you, and you potentially become someone who is not down/[fill in the blank] enough.
Actually, I think those two things were the only elements that needed to exist in order for him to feel okay about sharing these ideas with me. Don't get me wrong, I would much rather hear these sentiments than not realize that they do indeed exist. These are the very things that we need to uncover so that we may begin challenging them -- or first, figuring out where they stem from. Ignorance? Fear? Both?
And I don't mean to demonize him either -- no one is perfect, and we all have ideas that would probably elicit raised eyebrows if said out loud to a stranger.
What worries me is the idea that he probably wouldn't have shared what he shared if he didn't think I was "one of his own." How do we begin to chip away at this dynamic? Feeling utterly at home with people of your ethnicity, such that you can express the most unfounded and racist beliefs, yet never speak of such things across ethnic groups? We are only going to come to better understandings if we challenge each other on our assumptions -- and don't we have a better chance of challenging each other if we actually talk and share within diverse groups? More voices at the table (or in the taxi, as the case may be)?
...so what did I do about it?
At first, I was just going to tell you how all of this ended, but I am turning this into a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story (cue applause and laugh track). What do you think I did? Or what would you have done? After hearing some of your creative ideas, I will post the real ending. :)
Until next time, happy taxi rides to all...