In case I risk a fleet of black cabs descending on my house, their drivers with pitchforks at the ready, let me just say I don’t believe all white British taxi drivers are racist. Unfortunately, I’ve been a prisoner in the cabs of quite a few who were. In one case in Manchester, a friend asked a driver to stop nowhere near where we were heading, just to allow us to escape his toxic diatribe after one too many racist remarks.
The concept of racist taxi driver syndrome occurred to me recently, after hearing something so vehement it had me reeling. It was a comment filled with hatred and violence, and it shocked me to the core. Even in the darkest corners of social media’s sleaziest virtual streets, I hadn’t heard such a thing. And it was completely unjustified; an example of irrational prejudice fuelled, I suspect, by tabloid trash. I’m not going to repeat it because, well, because of something I’ll get on to in a bit. Let’s get back to Racist Taxi Driver Syndrome first.
We choose our friends. We choose what social environments we like to inhabit. We choose what newspapers we wish to read (and believe), which books we want to devour, what movies and TV series we watch, which news broadcasts we listen to. We don’t get to choose who’s driving the taxi we jump into. What this means is that we find ourselves in an enclosed space with a stranger whose views we might not agree with. All taxi drivers aren’t racist, but a huge percentage of them like to share their thoughts with whoever steps into their vehicles. And that means we are sometimes forced to listen to opinions that are offensive. Unless we take the action my friend did, we are temporary prisoners in their world.
Racist Taxi Driver Syndrome isn’t really about taxi drivers, it’s about finding yourself in a situation where you are exposed to toxic words spouted by people you wouldn’t otherwise choose to waste any precious seconds with.
We used to watch British football in a bar in Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife. The Canarian bar owner and his staff were sound. Unfortunately, a few of the holidaymakers that frequented the bar were politically dodgy. I’ve lost count of the times we’d be sitting at the bar, and someone would start chatting. All would be fine and dandy until a racist remark was made. It got to the point I dreaded talking to anyone I didn’t know because there was a considerable risk that racism would rear its ugly head at some point. A classic example involved a couple who moaned about immigrants. When we pointed out we were immigrants on Tenerife, the response, after initially refusing to accept we were, was ‘but you’re not the same.’ We all know what that meant. We made a lot of good friends in that bar. But there were also too many people whose company I would rather have avoided. Unlike a typical local bar in any town or village, much of the clientele changed on a weekly and fortnightly basis. It was completely random who we found ourselves sitting next to, a sure-fire recipe for occasionally being subjected to Racist Taxi Driver Syndrome. And the thing about this type of person is, they always automatically think you share their views, which annoys the hell out of me.
The situation where the person came out with the comment which shocked and disgusted me was another case of being in an environment we had no control over, another example of Racist Taxi Driver Syndrome.
And the reason I haven’t shared what they said? I’m a writer. The comment shocked me for sure, but there was also a part of me mentally scribbling it down, noting characteristics of the person who made it, listening keenly to other things they said. It was what we call ‘good copy,’ and it will turn up somewhere at some point. Unlike that adage about what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what you say in the company of a writer is material that can and will be used however they see fit.