Driven to drive … taxis


Why is it that most Somali males drive taxis, and what do their female counterparts do?

A lot of them do drive taxis, but taxi driving is not exclusive to Somalis. It might look like all taxi drivers are Somali because they are almost all concentrated in the airport areas. The number seems high and I think it is because there are a lot of us here, but compared to other races — like white taxi drivers — there’s really not as many as you might think.  Part of this, I think, is because it’s such a visible position, and there are a lot of people whose primary interaction with Somalis is from the back seat of a taxi.  There’s also a trick our brains like to play where once we get an idea about something, we tend to focus on the things that prove that idea and ignore the things that disprove it.

But to answer your question, a lot of Somali men end up driving taxis for three reasons. 

First, Muslim men are required to perform their prayer in the Masjid, especially midday prayer on Friday. A Muslim woman can perform prayer at her home or wherever she is at the time. If she wants she can go and pray at the Masjid, but it is not a requirement.  So having an hourly job makes fulfilling this religious duty difficult.  In Somalia, men came home at midday to eat lunch, go to the Masjid and pray, and then go back to work. In some cases work ended midday, especially on Fridays.

Second, coming from a society where the male was basically the king of everything, it is hard to suddenly answer to a female supervisor, or to a male supervisor, for that matter. In Somalia, at least outside the big cities, the vast majority of men are self-employed, and there is still a strong cultural preference for that.  So they become taxi drivers to be their own bosses. Adjusting to new language and new world is hard enough already, so I think it is another way of reducing stress and making as little change as possible. The taxi business provides a lot of autonomy compared to other jobs, so it makes it an attractive option.

Third, driving a taxi requires skills that a newly arrived immigrant is likely to already have, which aren’t exclusive to a particular country or culture.  A medical or engineering degree from another country is likely to not be recognized here, but anyone can easily demonstrate the ability to drive and read a map.  This makes taxi driving an attractive first step for immigrants from many countries.  Add in the fact that the more people from one country take up a particular profession, the more likely a new arrival from that country is to have a connection and an “in,” and it’s easy to see why so many people choose it.

As for women, I think we do a little better adjusting to America than the males do. This is just coming from one female’s opinion, but I think the Somali female population works in more diverse fields. Like the men’s preference for self employment, the concentration of women is around the medical field, especially nursing.  Women are seen as the nurturers and care-givers in our culture, so the ones that work often prefer those jobs.

But again, we have journalists, doctors, lawyers, business women and men, as well as factory workers.

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