Something happened the other night….

13 Jan

So there we were, a wee crew of us making our way from a Jungle night to a house party on a Saturday night in Galway city. Grabbing a taxi was becoming a task due to the amount of people out, so we ventured to the main taxi rank in search of a lift out of the madness. There were crowds of drunken folk all over the place; stopping cabs in the middle of the road, jumping the queue, the usual craic. We spotted a taxi pulled up near the bus stops so headed over to check it’s availability. On arriving we suddenly realised that a pretty tense situation was developing.

A young Irish man was standing beside the taxi in a defiant stance while the African driver argued with him. I decided to ask what the problem was and was informed by the driver that the fella had taken his car keys. The passenger was babbling about where he wanted to go, clutching the keys behind his back. We asked the man to return the keys and he acknowledged us but continued to ignore the driver. It had become apparent that the fella was refusing to pay his fare because as he saw it, he hadn’t been taken to where he wanted to go. The driver informed us that the man was very drunk and just didn’t want to pay. The indignation with which this young white lad stood there was astounding; arms crossed, announcing to the world how this black man had done him wrong. However this wasn’t the case, the passenger was just hoping we’d fall for his lies so he wouldn’t be expected to cover his fare. So many racist myths about African drivers not knowing the area and overcharging are spread around, why not spout the same lies in order to get out of handing over a tenner. Unfortunately for the young lad, the crowd that had begun to gather due to our intervention was heavily on the side of the driver.

abba

The driver’s frustration at not being able to do his job was motivating us to get the keys off the lad and to diffuse the situation. He resisted any attempt we made to rectify things, and continued to shout about being hoodwinked in order to feed into this racist diatribe that is propagated by those who view black taxi drivers as lesser beings. This isn’t without context; the taxi situation in Galway is awful and has been for over a decade. African drivers are racially abused and assaulted on a nightly basis and passengers will publicly skip a line of drivers in order to get into a car with a white face behind the wheel. I was fortunate enough to be involved with a report a few years ago that uncovered the racist attitudes that existed in Galway amongst Irish taxi drivers and passengers, and the findings were not in the least bit comforting. We have taxis with the tricolour emblazoned across the side clearly denoting that they’re not black, as well as certain companies that refuse to employ African drivers.

The situation is made all the more worse by the way the Gardai intervene. They often take the approach of “your word against theirs” in relation to racist incidents; leaving African drivers with no resolution and feeling even more alienated. A close friend was told by the local law enforcers that he was “greedy” for giving a lift to a customer who refused to pay as he should have known that he wouldn’t have retrieved his earnings. It has resulted in most drivers refusing to engage with the Guards and led to the setting up of African-run taxi groups and companies in order to overcome the racial bias on the ranks. This was how the situation at ended – the Gardai arrived and we headed off. As usual they didn’t address why this belligerent fool was preventing this man from doing his job; they just asked him to return the keys and ignored the concerns being raised by the taxi driver. We got out of there because we knew we’d be taken to task for ganging up on the racist fella, it’s not expected of you to challenge racism on the streets in Galway, you’re meant to just put your head down and walk on. I’m glad we didn’t, however it’s of no real solace to the driver involved – this was just one of many incidents he has to go through that just happened this time to get a bit of attention. Efforts must be made to stop this situation getting worse and it starts by challenging the racist myths head on and questioning those who skip black drivers on the rank. Not on our streets, thank you.

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