Race for a Cab: When Hailing a Ride Isn't So Black and White

"GMA" conducts an experiment to see whether racial profiling still exists.

March 31, 2009, 7:44 PM

April 1, 2009 — -- With a black first family and fewer people citing racism as a "big problem," how much have the country's race relations changed?

In the second part of a three-part series called "Black and White Now," "Good Morning America" tackles racial profiling. Click here to see the first part in the series about race relations.

It's a highly publicized issue with a highly visible face. Nearly a decade ago, actor Danny Glover took on the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, saying five yellow cabs in a single day refused to stop for him because he was black.

"I don't expect to have a taxi. I've been conditioned to think that someone is not going to stop for me," Glover said of the racial profiling incident.

His formal complaint sparked a nationwide debate about subtle and not so subtle racism in public places like on city streets, in restaurants and shopping malls.

That was November 1999. "GMA" wanted to see how much things had changed in 2009 and enlisted the help of well-known black attorney Christopher Darden, who was the prosecutor in O.J. Simpson's murder trail.

"Obviously there are situations where almost all of us can all agree that someone's actions are racially motivated, but racism and discrimination are typically practiced in a subtle way," said Darden, who is now a successful defense attorney.

With "GMA's" cameras rolling, Darden was easily able to hail a New York City cab in broad daylight.

"I got the first cab and there was a second one that was trying to squeeze that one out of the way," he said.

But his luck changed when day turned to night. After the sun went down, two cabs passed him. The third cab, which was driven by a black man, stopped and picked him up.

"There you have it. I guess it's true what they say, 'After dark, it's hard to catch a cab to Harlem,'" Darden said.

Black vs. White

In "GMA's" second experiment, a black man and a Caucasian man were tapped to hail cabs. They hailed more than 40 cabs and during the day neither man had a problem. But as the sun went down, the first taxi the men tried to get passed directly by the black man to pick up the Caucasian man.

Then minutes later, it happened again with another cab. It was the same story uptown and three out of the 10 cabs hailed at night passed up the black man.

"At night they will slow down to pick me up and realize that I'm a person of color then suddenly flip the switch; they're out of service and will drive on. And I've seen it as far as they will go to the next block and pick someone else up within clear sight," said Briscoe Savoy, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident who is a photographer and participated in the experiment.

When "GMA" told the New York City Taxi Commission what happened, it issued the following statement:

"Unfortunately, the problem of taxicab drivers prejudging certain fares still exists, though to a lesser extent than in years past," the statement said.

The commission said it now puts cabbies through a rigorous training, which includes service refusal issues as well as the continuing education class they must take after their probationary year. It said cabbies follow the rules "97 percent" of the time.

It isn't just blacks who feel discrimination. A recent Gallup survey shows 15 percent of all workers, of all races, say they have been subject to some form of discrimination.

Thirty-one percent of Asians surveyed said they'd experienced discrimination -- the largest percentage of any ethnic group.

Taxicabs aren't the only place where people say they experience racism.

The phrase "shopping while black" was coined to describe racial profiling experiences that blacks have while in stores when a clerk follows them to ensure they don't shoplift.

Nine years ago, "20/20" conducted a hidden camera investigation that followed two women. One black woman and one white browsed through an upscale, suburban shopping department store.

The clerk followed the black shopper closely and apparently singled her out as a possible shoplifter. The clerk even went so far as to peek into her dressing room.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from January found 60 percent of blacks have felt a storekeeper was trying to make them feel unwelcome solely because of their race.

So even a decade after Glover's complaint, issues of racial profiling still occur.

Go to the next page to read part one of the "GMA" series "Black and White Now."

Read part one of the "GMA" series "Black and White Now."

What a Doll Tells Us About Race

"GMA" examines race relations by revisiting a famous doll experiment.

With a black first family and fewer people citing racism as a "big problem," just how much have the country's race relations changed?

It's a question "Good Morning America" posed in its three-part series "Black and White Now," which takes a look at the current state of race relations.

In Part 1, "GMA" recreated a famous doll experiment, which gave insight into race relations and the self-esteem of children.

In the 1940s, the nation was captivated by an electrifying experiment by legendary sociologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. They asked black children about two dolls, one white and one black.

The majority -- 63 percent of them -- said they'd rather play with the white doll. Most said the white doll was nicer than the black doll and in the most poignant answer of all, 44 percent of the black children said the white doll looked most like them.

"[It was] groundbreaking in that it sort of changed the way we look at race relations," Harvard University professor William Julius Wilson said. "Here are kids who felt that [...] being white was more beautiful than black. And that's pretty devastating."

Sixty years and one biracial president later, "GMA" gathered 19 black children, ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old, in Norfolk, Va.

Some of our results differed vastly from those of the original experiment. For example, 88 percent of our children happily identified with the dark-skinned doll.

Forty-two percent of the children wanted to play with the black doll compared to 32 percent for the white doll.

"GMA" then moved on to that question about which doll is nice and which is not. Sixty years ago, 56 percent of the children chose the white doll. The majority of our kids chose black or both and 32 percent chose the white doll.

Sometimes the choice had nothing to do with race.

"The bad doll is on my right because that's just the way it looks at me. It kind of creeps me out with the beady eyes," said 9-year-old Chareese Hicks, a fourth-grade participant who picked the white doll as bad.

Yet sometimes the answer about which doll was nicer raised some disturbing questions.

"It talks back and don't follow directions," said 7-year-old Alexis Lindsey, a second-grader who chose the black doll as the bad one.

There was another question "GMA" asked. In this age of much superficial judgment, when so many magazines and ads concentrate on looks, we wanted to know about appearance. Which doll was more beautiful?

A number of kids, including second-grader Sergine Mombrun, said there was no difference.

"Just by looking at them I think both of them are pretty," the 7-year-old said. "Babies are cute."

Most of the children who agreed with Sergine were boys.

"They are the same, no difference but the skin color. [It] doesn't really matter," said 9-year-old fourth-grader Cordell Means.

Wilson offered a reason for the disparity between the girls and the boys.

"Black boys are more confident," he said. "Black girls are less confident."

"Black girls do not feel that they enjoy the respect and admiration that black boys do," he said.

Second-grader Jamya Atkins, 7, picked the white doll as soon as she sat down and before the questions began.

She said the white doll was shiny and the black doll was frowning.

Nayomi McPeters, a 7-year-old second-grader, said the black doll was the ugly doll "because sometimes this one has its feet like a monkey."

In fact, 47 percent of the girls we questioned said the white doll was prettier.

"Black children develop perceptions about their race very early. They are not oblivious to this. There's still that residue. There's still the problem, the overcoming years, decades of racial and economic subordination," Wilson said.

And even with the questions raised by this experiment, there is hope.

With Barack Obama as president, many of the children said they believe they too could be the commander in chief one day.

"Barack Obama was like my idol," said 8-year-old third-grader Jahlia Jordan. "He has persevered and gone though so much. Because he done it, I can do it, too."

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