Sunday, July 26, 2009
That's Racism You Jerk
Racism or discrimination is not new to many of us. What’s new is the different ways and degrees and colors and style and expression and smell and tone and rhythm and manner it takes every single disgraceful forsaken time it crosses our path!
Just when I think I’ve forgotten…
Taxi. Today I’m standing on one side of a four lane road waiting for a cab. He’s driving on the other side of the road, in the opposite direction. The road is wide, four lanes wide. He manages to stop smack in the middle and burn rubber while slamming those poor breaks hard so the car comes to a full stop while he’s smack in the middle of a turning lane.
Looks at me.
I know how it works now. So I yell out, from the opposite side of the road, as loud as I can: “I’’’’’’’mmmmm goooooooiiiiiiiiiiinggggg dowwwwwwwwnnnnnntownnnnnn”.
Nods his head to say hop in. It’s on his way. He’ll drive me there for less than two dollars.
The routine. As usual. Once I get the “green light”, I start running. Dodge the incoming cars on my lane while heading towards the cab, cross over to the other side without getting run over. Meanwhile, he has his rear door open so I can take a dive like I’m in a James Bond movie.
I’m in. He’s an old man. White hair, tanned face, ticked off expression. I’ve seen it before on many cab drivers who have been on the road too long, not making too much money.
He is polite to me. The usual Lebanese etiquette that I’m used to: “Downtown it is young lady, your wish is my command”.
I’m all huffing and puffing from the good run. I’m settling in. I fiddle with my purse. Fix my dress. Fix my hijab… rub the sweat off…. wait…..I … hear….talking…..
I look to my side and I notice. Yes. I notice that there are two more passengers sitting next to me. They are two women from the Philippines.
I understand what they are saying. My best friends back in high school were from the Philippines and I worked with a lot of people from the Philippines throughout my life, so I recognize the basics of the language.
One of the women was new to the country, hired as a maid, the other one, also a maid who is not new to the country, was getting the first one acquainted with the place. They were saying stuff like you take this bus to get to Achrafieh, that bus to get to Hamra. You don’t pay more than ten bucks if you go to Jounieh by cab. But by bus it’s cheaper.
Suddenly. In English.
Cab driver: “okay. Which one pay me?”
Woman who is not new to Beirut: “Ana Ammo (In Arabic. Me, uncle).
Cab driver: “ yallah, pay me now!”
Woman: “tfaddal Ammo, shukran kteer. (here you go, uncle. Thank you very much).
They step out. While they’re stepping out, the cab driver curses at them in a low voice. I hear him. The two women are still thanking him while they’re stepping out of the cab.
I look at them as they stand on the sidewalk. Still thanking him so gently and so politely while he curses in his low voice.
Burns rubber in their face and drives away.
I don’t know what helpless feels like in a situation like this, but I was feeling reckless, frustrated, angry and helpless all at once. Like taking shots in the dark, I ask him: “take me to Charles Helou bus station for three dollars please”. All frustrated.
I was asking for a much cheaper rate.
Usually, the rate is at least five dollars to get to Charles helou bus station. But all of a sudden I wanted to bargain. Get him in the pocket. Nothing hurts a cab driver more. That jerk…..
He looks at me.
Him: “Young lady, you know that’s not the rate”.
Me: “ But Ammo (uncle), I’m sure you’ll help me out today”. A smile on the outside, a bitter bitter resentment on the inside.
Him: “hmmmm okay, but next time just tell me you want to go there, and not downtown”. He smiles. Never seen an uglier smile in my life.
Me: “okay ammo”.
……………………. what disturbs me the most, you see, is that it’s not like me to be quiet about racism. On normal days, hell breaks loose. But this time, I just don’t know what happened…. I hate that I wasn’t being myself, especially in situations like this.
I know that what I did is NOT the right way. All I could do was use my power over him as a woman who looks “Lebanese” and get him on his taxi rate. That doesn’t solve anything. It’s just not my style of handling things.
I have no idea what got over me, but I should never let racism slip without saying no to it.
I remember someone saying to me once that what makes evil men prosper is all the silent good men out there.