After a longer than usual day at work, I decided to splurge and take an Uber pool home (instead of walking). My intention in sharing what happened on my ride is to keep growing and learning on how to improve my awareness and response in these situations, and also to invite you to join me in this journey of owning my privilege and being a better ally to those without.
I live in Portland, Oregon and have majority privilege as white passing, female, having a US birth certificate, and having an ethnically-neutral accent. These privileges are relevant to this story and have given me socioeconomic, educational, and transportation advantages over my Persons of Color peers. A brilliant Facebook friend and -ism/bias luminary, Alexandra, recently posted that “being an ally of minorities is not an adjective, it's a verb,” and tonight I feel the painful and interesting opportunity to practice the "verb" I wish to see in the world by describing what happened to further raise my awareness and start a conversation. So, on to my story: I was the second rider of this Uber Pool and as I got in the car I found myself joining a conversation already in progress and hearing a disturbing story from the first rider (a petite, female, and person of color) about a recent Uber pool ride. (Note: I will identify my companion rider as a “they” from here on out since I don't know their preferred pronoun).
In the previous ride, my companion was the second passenger and the first passenger appeared to be a male (racial or ethnic identity was not mentioned) who became overtly uncomfortable as soon as my companion got in the car. The 1st rider asked them where they were from (micro-aggression #1) and guessed it was England “because of their accent” (micro-aggression #2). While they had been raised in London, they identified as Arab, and explained this to the male questioning them. He eventually responded, "I never thought I would have to ride in an Uber with an Arab" (OVERT racism) as he left the vehicle. My fellow rider recalled the moment as awkward and disturbing, and reported that before they had been dropped off at their destination, the 1st rider had given the driver a one star rating because of “being required” to ride with an Arab. (Side Note, I HOPE Uber will follow-up on this “review” and address this discrimination appropriately). I responded by labeling the first rider’s actions as racist and expressed my distress and anger at what my companion had experienced, saying repeatedly in horror, "That is not okay!" and "I'm sorry." My companion nodded their head and reported that their driver (unknown gender, racial, or ethnic identity) had listened without speaking up during the whole exchange and only after dropping the male off at his destination, expressed shock to my companion and that they had been thinking “is this really happening?” during the experience.
Our driver, a white-passing male, was mostly quiet hearing this story, but nodded his head during my reactions of horror and dismay. My companion changed the conversation to more general conversation on other issues with riding Uber pool (like time delays in getting picked up) and we both joined in educating our relatively new-to-Uber driver on how these and other situations can happen with ride-shares. Before my companion left the vehicle (they were being dropped off first), I expressed gratitude for their story and getting to ride with them in Uber Pool, period. I paused here before saying the second point, which is that I found it cool that they identified as Arab. For the first part, they became more enthusiastic and thanked me, but when I mentioned that I liked their diversity, they looked away and mumbled, "not really.” I was sad to hear this response (and what appeared to be internalized oppression) and after catching their eye said, "ALL of you is beautiful" as they were about to leave the vehicle. They lingered for a moment longer in the parked vehicle and we held eye contact as they took my statement of truth in. They appeared relieved and happy as they repeatedly thanked the driver and I before walking away.
On our way towards my destination, I turned my attention to the driver and initiated a conversation about white-passing privilege and racism for the rest of my ride. I noticed feeling caution in my body because our driver had been so quiet during the exchange. I asked him what his plan was if he ever heard something like that happening in his vehicle. Without hesitation he replied that he would have stopped the vehicle as soon as possible and would have told the discriminating person that they were required to exit the vehicle immediately. I thanked him for his clear answer and felt some relief realizing that he had been listening to this scenario and planning his action when he encounters it first hand. As we arrived at my stop, I shared my hope that he and I will both be better allies after hearing this person's recent racial trauma. He agreed and we said goodnight.
As I try to wind down for the evening, I feel haunted, activated, and grateful for my 5 minutes in Uber pool tonight and wonder what I could have done better to support and bridge my social privilege of white-passing skin and a local-sounding language to this person who is a minority of gender, ethnicity, and race. In taking this opportunity to further refresh and educate myself on micro-aggression and how they are connected to overt racism, I found a great article that states,
It is certainly worth exploring microaggressions on the basis of their link to implicit biases, and the ways in which they can both telegraph and contribute to the proliferation of more invidious, macro-level prejudices. Implicit biases have serious material consequences beyond hurt feelings, from discriminatory hiring to racial inequities in policing and the broader U.S. criminal-justice system. In other words, microaggressions matter because they seem to be both symptoms and causes of larger structural problems. -The Atlantic
I decided to share here tonight (instead of vegging on Netflix) as an example of modern-day racism and am wondering: What would you have done if you had been in my shoes tonight or also in the car a week ago? P.S. I welcome any and all constructive and ally-oriented feedback on this story. Let's learn how to do better together!
About the Author
Ruth Diaz, LPC, Psy.D. is a counselor, consultant, and coach on returning to compassionate connection in relationship with ourselves and each other at every level. She works as an organizational psychologist in Portland, Oregon.