Everyday Ethics

Yesterday was a big day for me; I moved out of New York City, my home of seven years. It was a whirlwind day–finishing up some work, packing, saying my goodbyes to good friends. Then of course there was the small matter of getting all my belongings to the airport–never an easy task in the city.

I had a huge traveling backpack strapped on my back, a 50-pound suitcase, a purse overflowing with books, my laptop and various odds and ends, and a stuffed carry-on suitcase. Trust me, I was pushing the limits of my capabilities.

With some determination, I made my way to the street, parked myself on a corner and tried to hail a cab. Now, there are rules about hailing cabs–unspoken rules that only the lowest of the low refuse to follow. Such was the case with one suited man. As I stood on my corner, I saw him get off a nearby subway stop and make his way to my suitcase-littered corner. After standing next to me for a minute or two, I watched in disbelief as he simply walked to a spot 20 feet or so in front of me and held his hand up to flag a taxi — basically he cut in line.

New York can be brutal, yes, but come on. I wasn’t up for a direct confrontation, so I resigned myself to taking the second cab to come along. Soon an empty cab drove up, slowed down briefly in front of the man, saw me standing behind him, and stopped in front of me! I was ready to sing hallelujah.

So there I was, struggling to gather up all my suitcases and get them into the taxi, when I see that the other man was not taking this affront lying down. He raced past me and tried to get into the taxi. I was in the middle of hoisting a backpack the size of a small child up on my back, so all I could spit out was, “Are you kidding me, sir?!?” Luckily for me, the driver wasn’t having any of it. He wouldn’t let the man in. The man stomped away, visibly fuming.

Once the driver got out to help me with my bags, it became pretty apparent why I won the battle – he was a middle-aged Indian man.

Over the years I’ve noticed that I often get preferential treatment from Indian taxi drivers. One time the driver even refused to let me pay for a trip to the airport. It’s all done with a paternal attitude, and though I often find it a bit irritating to have to answer the inevitable questions (are you from India? Where? Do you speak Hindi?) I know they’re coming from a good place.

But, there was a niggling sense in my head that I had unintentionally reaped the rewards of something I didn’t deserve. The taxi driver didn’t know that the other man had acted poorly and jumped in front of me. All he knew was that if given the choice between a white man and an Indian woman, he was favoring the Indian woman.

Perhaps it is this blog haunting me wherever I go, but I honestly felt badly about it. When I described the situation to my friends later, they called it simple justice. Hillary called it karma. Also, don’t think I didn’t suffer during the ride to the airport. Having apparently “rescued” me in my time of need, the driver felt comfortable lecturing me alllll the way to the airport on the weight requirements of my luggage (“You must be smart about this!”)

What do you think? Was this justice being meted out in an “everyday” type of situation or another example of racism in the world?

On another note, I’d like to take a brief minute to thank my lovely co-blogger Hillary for all her support during this hectic and emotional move — she’s been a true and patient pal, even while there were times I could barely remember my name, let alone carry on an intelligent conversation. I appreciate it!

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