You Could Be the Editor of Vogue and Still Become a Hashtag

It’s a story I’ve heard more than once, more than twice even. In fact, my own sister has told me tales of #ridingwhileblack at least three different times over the years. Cabbies or Uber drivers would drive her to some completely foreign location, and then order her out of their car, threaten to call the police, etc. – all for no good reason. So, when I read that former Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth had experienced it in an Uber a few days ago, I just shook my head and sighed.

I’ve followed Welteroth for some time now. I find her aspirational. Always smiling and stylishly dressed, her long natural hair looking like she just stepped out of a strong breeze, she’s a real mover and a shaker. She was the youngest editor-in-chief ever for publisher Condé Nast, and only the second person of color, and she elevated Teen Vogue’s content with diverse, socially conscious stories and talent that made me read a magazine I’d never picked up before in my life.

Then in January she made the bold move to leave her choice position and go out on her own. Her career since then has been nothing short of amazing. Three days ago she posted a picture of herself on a panel interviewing “Obama’s MVPs @valeriebjarrett @ambassadorrice @juliancastrotx about THE STATE OF THE WORLD…” But at the end of the day, in the back of that Uber, she was reminded that she’s still just a black woman who some random will think nothing of calling the police on for that reason and no other.

Welteroth was on her way to an appointment in Flatbush when her Uber driver pulled over in Park Slope and ordered her to get out. The two New York locations are both in Brooklyn, but they’re not close. She asked, “are we here?” But this joker already had his phone out to dial 911. Then, to add injury to insult, he slammed the car door on her arm and told the police that she hit him. Thankfully, she recorded the whole thing, and a helpful bystander yelling out “she did not hit him” is clearly audible in the video.

It makes no sense. At all. Like, really? What was the motivation for his actions? According to Welteroth there was no altercation. This person apparently just chose to drop her at the wrong place and call the police on her.

But he didn’t count on the fact that Welteroth has a huge media platform and quite a bit of experience dealing with this type of foolishness. Also, Arianna Huffington, who’s on the board of directors at Uber, is one of her mentors. Huffington found out and promptly set it off. Okay, that was dramatic. I don’t know what she did actually, but Huffington did apologize on behalf of Uber, and the driver is now being investigated.

My question is this: Why do people keep doing this boneheaded stuff? You have to know that everyone and their Granny has a smartphone with a camera just itching to record and post you doing something stupid. The world loves a hashtag, and racist anything is almost guaranteed to go viral. This story has been covered around the world. So, what gives? Are video recordings and hashtags so commonplace now that they’ve lost their sting?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the problem is not a lack of concern over image. #MeToo proved that one’s image does matter in this age of readymade, easily uploaded Internet realness. The firings, arrests and ruined careers that followed that rash of #MeToo outings some months back reinforced the power of perception in the public eye.

So, there’s really only one reasonable explanation: Racism and/or gender bias are so ingrained, they’ve metastasized into a hatred so deep, people literally can’t stop themselves from behaving badly. And we – Black women, or any other minority – are left to deal with the aftermath.

“Too many of us deal with this kind of mistreatment daily and we just keep it moving,” Welteroth wrote on her Instagram stories. “Because we know we are bigger and stronger than the awful, petty things that happen to us. Because we know that our energy and time are our most valuable commodities. Because we believe in practicing the living mantra: ‘When they go low, we go high.’”

But at the end of the day, she wrote that she was compelled to speak out despite a conscious decision to use her large platform to promote “light, joy and positivity.” She wrote that her desire to avoid that dreaded and often completely unfair “angry black woman” tag you get slapped with anytime you speak up or question what’s happening was not as significant as her desire to let the world know that “it happens to me too. No amount of career success, kindness, clout, education or money invalidates you from being treated like trash by people you pay to deliver a service to you.”

We need to boycott Uber. Seriously, just take Lyft or something. At this point, the constant stink emanating from that company has gotten so bad smelling salts won’t cover it. These crazy drivers are not going to do right, and it’s the company’s fault.

There’s video of this incident and countless others. There’s a picture of an allegedly Uber driver given bruise that’s probably gonna take a $100 in cocoa butter and skin brighteners to remove circulating all over the Internet, but I couldn’t find a single story where the company responded. Even Starbucks bowed its head to pay penance when some of its Philadelphia employers did the fool on black patrons recently. But Uber? Crickets.

For the record, I have never used the Uber app. I’ve been in Ubers with other people a few times, but I made the conscious choice to disdain that particular download long ago. I own a car, Chicago has a fabulous public transportation system, and I have no problem taking an old-fashion cab when the need arises.

Outside this blog I don’t usually tell people what to do. Here I’m free to say what I like. You choose to read this blog. But you may not choose to listen if I try to share one of my beliefs verbally. So, I won’t tell anyone not to patronize Uber – unless they ask. But for the record, with this company, I think we should all find other options. We did before.

It’s shameful what happened to Welteroth, but it’s by no means an unusual occurrence. So, let’s keep recording and posting. Let’s keep the pressure high on companies that allow their employees to blatantly disrespect their customers. Women are often treated like we have no power – let’s face it, we don’t have much – but we are not powerless. We can put these companies out of business if we want to, and Uber? They need to go.

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