Sunday, 15 March 2009
Reading, cabbies, and bigots
Current reading? Several books at the same time, as usual. Billy's kind gift of Thomas Buergenthal's A Lucky Child, Hungarian polymath Thomas Kabdebo's novel Tracking Giorgione, and friend Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser, about which more on another post once I have finished it (it will accompany me to Newcastle). Also about to launch into three poetry books for review: Emma Jones's The Striped World, Rob A. Mackenzie's The Opposite of Cabbage, and J. O. Morgan's Natural Mechanical... I'm already up to p.99 with Linda's book though it only arrived yesterday.
I read the letters in the Saturday Guardian's Weekend. Three letters from people about the previous week's feature involving cabbies. The first two are bull's-eye Guardian. The first begins:
So taxi drivers want to talk... and the British ones quite like to air their dislike of foreigners...
The other simply says:
Joy of joys, an 11-page feature on cabbies. Personally I spend my life trying to avoid being holed up in confined spaces with celebrity obsessed bigots.
Cabbies are bigots, you see. But I actually read the cabbie's stories, and this is what I see:
1. Not one of the British ones has anything bad, not one bad word, to say about anyone foreign, in fact they hardly mention people from abroad at all, apart from a Belfast cabbie who says he is less afraid of being murdered now by sectarians, and that he picks up people from all communities because there are many more. He does this without characterising or criticising any of them;
2. The only other one to mention a foreigner is someone grateful for the kindness shown him by 'a nice Arab gentleman'. That's it as far as bigotedness and xenophobia are concerned;
3. Of the sixteen cabbies interviewed eight are in fact immigrants themselves. Two are women, one of them Iranian. Of the immigrants a number had been hoping to do better things but war and other circumstances back home prevented them;
4. Of the Brits, a number had lost jobs when firms closed and so became cabbies (I have met a few of these myself);
5. A number had been assaulted, robbed and cheated or had their cabs ruined. They worked all hours, at risk;
6. Only three (3) mentioned 'celebrities'.
7. There is in fact a very likely reason for that. viz points (a), (b) (c) and (d) below:
a) 'So taxi drivers want to talk...' meaning, in this case, to Guardian Weekend, is a misapprehension. A miscellaneous bunch of cabbies did not write to the Guardian, saying: We want to talk. Clear 11 pages of your glossy magazine. Cabbies don't write the stories;
b) The way such features work is that the paper sends out reporters to do a story. They ask questions: the cabbies answer them;
c) The questions they are likely to be asked are often based on clichés the reporters themselves have been brought up on, so one of them is almost certain to have been: Had any celebrities in the back of the cab then? The cabbies don't make up the questions: the reporters do (I have never been regaled by a taxi driver unwontedly listing the celebrities he has driven here and there);
d) Of the sixteen, three make some sort of answer to that question. But they don't talk. You do not actually hear the cabbies talking at all, if you listen carefully. They are, all of them, answering questions. The reporters are editing and paraphrasing. That is what they are paid to do.
What this demonstrates is that the Guardian readership is partly composed of middle-class snobs auto-piloting on prejudice. In other words they are, ahem, bigots. Refined ones, of course. Cabbies? Had one of them in the front of the cab once. Bigots, the lot of them.