‘Racism’ and rationality


The non-story about Diane Abbott’s latest tweet regarding taxi drivers not stopping to pick up blacks reminded me of an otherwise humorous incident many years ago. I’d been in Central London and was returning home during the early evening rush hour, something I generally avoid, but this particular evening at Victoria Station I opened the carriage door, got in and shut it behind me. This was at a time when many commuter trains consisted of individual carriages; the new stock have long carriages with automatic doors.

That night there was one occupant of the carriage, a young black man; if I recall, he was dressed in overalls of some description, and was obviously a blue collar worker on his way home. I sat down on the same side of the carriage as him. Shortly, the door opened, a young white girl, an office worker, stood there and looked at us briefly, slammed the door, and walked further up the train. We looked at each other, and laughed.

Although this was the height of the rush hour, this young woman decided rightly to err on the side of caution, or it may be that she recalled the case of Debbie Linsley a few years earlier. In 1988, this unfortunate young woman was murdered on a train travelling on that same line, between Victoria and Orpington. I remembered this well because when I use that line I alight at Penge East; there is a tunnel between Penge East and the previous station, Sydenham Hill, and there was some speculation at the time that she had been murdered while the train was travelling through it. Thus she could have been murdered less than a mile from where I am sitting now. In 2002, the case was reopened following new DNA evidence – unlike the not so new and unquestionably dodgy forensics in the recent Stephen Lawrence trial.

I recall another incident from around the same time. I was waiting in a bus queue at Selhurst with quite a few other people, including a black woman of perhaps 25 or 30. I don’t think there were any other blacks in the queue; a car pulled up, it had 3 or 4 young black men in it, and they offered her a lift. It was obvious she didn’t know them, and very wisely she declined.

According to doctrinaire “anti-racists”, if the woman at Victoria Station had opened that door and seen two black men sitting there, she should have got in with them. After all, only a racist wouldn’t, right? And the black woman at the bus stop?

On occasion, I’ve found myself alone with young females in potentially awkward situations, travelling alone at night and such. Do I as a 6 foot something white male take offence at women regarding me as a potential rapist? If I see a young girl in the street and stare at her, her mother may well regard me as a potential paedophile instead of a man who looks at her offspring and sees only the daughter he might have but never had.

The issue of racism today is very similar to witchcraft at the time of the Salem trials. Even powerful politicians and at times outright bigots are terrified of being branded racists. The reality is that sometimes it is the right or at least the rational thing for a taxi driver not to stop to pick up a black male. I never hated any man so much I wouldn’t take his money; most business people feel the same way.

Taxi drivers are self-employed; they are not paid by the hour, and if they don’t pick up fares, they don’t eat. Has a taxi driver ever driven by Diane Abbott? Probably not without a rational reason, like he was on his way to somewhere he could pick up a potentially more lucrative passenger. Most taxi drivers would have no qualms about stopping for any woman of her age, but a young black male or males in the wrong circumstances, a group of young men who don’t look right, someone who looks disreputable, maybe with facial tattoos...Racism has nothing to do with such rational choices. Prejudice? That word means simply to prejudge; the young woman at Victoria Station may have prejudged me and my fellow passenger and got it wrong, but she made a fail-safe error, and unlike Debbie Linsley, she lived to take the train another day.

One final thought about Diane Abbott, why does she have to take some many friggin’ taxis? If public transport is good enough for Ken Livingstone, and even Boris Johnson bikes it, why must she enjoy a premium ride at the taxpayers’ expense?

[The above blog was first published January 7, 2012.]

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