Taxicab Confessions: Racism on the Road

ByABC News
March 22, 2006, 6:33 PM

March 23, 2006 — -- The movie "Crash," which won an Oscar for best picture this year, posed the stark questions: Are we all driven by prejudice and fear? Do we all harbor racist thoughts?

"Primetime" tried to answer that question by finding out what happened when people were confronted with hateful racial slurs. Say you're riding in a taxi and the driver starts a racist tirade -- denigrating blacks, Arabs, Jews, Asians, or Hispanics. Would you argue with him, tell him to shut up and let you out, or just keep quiet? Or would you maybe even join in?

"Primetime" equipped taxicabs with hidden microphones and cameras and hired two actors -- one white and one black -- to play the racist cab driver in two different parts of the country -- New Jersey and Savannah, Ga.

Carrie Keating, a psychology professor at Colgate University, says even complete strangers of different races can form a tight bond when one of them goes out on a limb and begins talking about race.

"Oddly enough, sometimes we're more honest with strangers than we are with people we know well," Keating said.

In a northern New Jersey town near New York City, the first fare is a Puerto Rican woman named Inez on her way to work, and she seemed to bear out Keating's claim.

Brian, the white cabbie, began by denigrating Arabs, then took it a step further."Let's face it, people with brown skin shouldn't be allowed into the country," he said.

Inez pushed back, saying she didn't agree. "That would be a form of prejudice and I am far from being prejudiced," she said.

And she was quick to take issue with the notion that all Arabs are terrorists. "If you talk to a real Muslim who practices the Muslim religion, they don't trust the terrorists, the Arabs, because that's not the teaching of Islam," she said.

But then the conversation turned to Asians, and Inez complained, why can't they speak English?

"If you don't have it in English and you're in my country, then you don't want my business -- that's just the way I see it," she said. "So therefore, you shouldn't be allowed to have a business in the United States."