At BlaBlaCar, a driver may refuse a passenger in the explicit reason that he is stranger [*]. What is BlaBlaCar doing against xenophobia ?
Carpooling is an opportunity to share more than the travel costs, but also a moment with other people from different backgrounds and origins. It’s a way to travel, open to the world. This was my preferred mode of travel during the summer, until…
The famous site BlaBlaCar puts drivers and passengers in. With this simple and pleasant site, I had the opportunity to share some trips to all sorts of locations, short or long, in France as well as abroad. This site, originally French, is now available in over twenty countries, to travel in Europe, but also in Brazil and India.
It’s also possible to book for someone else, child, partner or friend. It’s a good way to promote the site and initiate carpooling. So this is what I do for a friend, to go celebrate on August 15 in the countryside. Once the reservation is made online, so prepaid, the phone driver is communicated to me and I can call him to confirm the time and place of appointment. This one is a regular who is positively appreciated by passengers.
No foreigner on board
On the phone, he suddenly changed his mind, on the ground that he takes no foreigner [*] on board. I remain a moment speechless, without understanding the meaning of the sentence nor the connection with our conversation. Then I understand at once : xenophobia.
Fantasizing from a not strictly Franco-French name and perhaps also because a national border is approached on the path it offers, he gives in to fear of the other. He probably imagines be faced with the flow of migrants, to deal with a stowaway, some potential rapist of “our” white women, or worse, a terrorist who returns from a training camp in Jihad. For it continues : “No, I’d rather not. With all that is happening in France now, you know, sweety, I…” and place the litany of superficial arguments and other xenophobic superstitions fed by our news channels, which terrorizing my fellow citizens. I understand. He is afraid. The migration crisis will not pass through him. He will not be complicit. No stowaway. No terrorist risk. He is a good French.
By this measure then, given the unusual name which I inherited, I also represent a terrorist threat ! Its paternalistic tone, of fifties who believes that educating the young lady discovered me to be for him, completes disgust me and pulls me from my stupor. I cut him, sarcastically thank his openness and hangs up the phone. No, I don’t want to hear this nonsense. This is not good for morale.
Yuck ! Want to wash my ears and brain with remover soap. I remain stunned by his frankness, by his xenophobia which said plainly, explicitly. What does it mean, no foreigner on board ? Is it a badge to stick on the windscreen to indicate that ? A pictogram online ?
The driver, only master on board
Back on the site, I’m surprised not to find a way to report the impropriety of a member. His behavior is indeed contrary to the ridesharer’s agreement of BlaBlaCar, which calls for being “considerate and welcoming”. In French this one specifically calls to respect “the values of carpooling : tolerance, respect, sharing and conviviality”.
So I appeal BlaBlaCar via chat online, where one of the helpers tells me, after having questioned my assessment of the situation, which he sees neither racism nor xenophobia, that the driver is the only master on board. The driver maintains his free choice, OK. This is a legitimate principle, which is not to question. Some carpools are thus rejected, without the need to justify.
But remain free to choose its passengers not allowed to speak so openly xenophobic. My interlocutor seems to forget that the French law condemns “any discrimination based on membership or non-membership of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion.” Suddenly I’m afraid, beyond a lack of discernment, he does share the view of the driver. BlaBlaCar would it complicit xenophobia of its members ?
That BlaBlaCar tacitly endorse the discriminating argument seeing not insult one hand, nor giving way to complain secondly, shock me, besides being contrary to the values that this site claims share. But above all, not for reporting discriminatory and/or criminal behavior, BlaBlaCar favors.
What is BlaBlaCar doing against discrimination ?
Indeed, this situation is not unique. Last year, the Islamophobia of a driver left a teenager on the side of the road. The French organization SOS Racisme denounced it in 2015. What is BlaBlaCar to avoid this ? Not much !
The experience was highly unpleasant for the user that I am. So, to improve the UX, I suggest to BlaBlaCar, that national preference is indicated on the driver profile, among other preferences, in the same way that everyone says he prefers to talk a little, a lot or passionately. In short, it should be possible to indicate whether each supports the presence of a foreigner in the car as is already the case of a smoker or a pet. This would improve the site experience, by helping passengers better choice, avoiding wasting time to wipe unpleasant refusal. Why not pretty pictograms with the flags of every nation ? For my part, I want my badge ”I talk to strangers” !
Enough joking ! BlaBlaCar has already taken a position on another form of violence, the sexist, also condemned, by proposing an offer dedicated “Ladies only”. If we follow this logic, BlaBlaCar should propose an offer dedicated “foreigners only” in order to put them at ease by avoiding their xenophobic risk. In the same way that “some women still don’t feel comfortable sharing a ride with another male member” I feel more comfortable with welcoming people and open to the world than with xenophobic nationalists offenders.
But this way that BlaBlaCar ghettoized potential victims is not likely to change sexist nor xenophobic behavior, and leaves rather open the door to discrimination.
After SOS Racisme, I asked BlaBlaCar to act. Upstream, by introducing a non-discrimination clause, reminder that the law, not only the rules of the road, applies here too. But also downstream, allowing offenders to report behavior, as is already on many other sites.
Beyond the legal nature, so does the site branding BlaBlaCar. The latter claims to promote ‘a practice that promotes exchanges between people of different backgrounds and origins’. This example proves that it is not the case since, according to them, the driver maintains his free choice. By not acting effectively against this kind of behavior BlaBlaCar will only enhance this kind of practices contrary to the ethics they put forward, says the association. I agree.