University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Yu-Li Alice Shen

Overheard on Uber: “I thought you didn’t like Japanese people, but I bet you’d like her.” Intersectional Confessions of the Ride-Share Community

Abstract: I deal with filth and foulness every day at my job. I invite strangers into my personal space, and I take them places – both figurative and literal. Some of them are unwashed and unkempt; some of them are rude and foul-mouthed. We talk sometimes. We avoid talking most of the time. When our session is through, they pay me and pass judgment on me. I pass judgment on them too, then move onto the next.

While this may sound like a particularly horrible day in the classroom, this is not how I would describe my career as an English instructor at the University of Southern Indiana. When I’m not at school, I’m in my car, driving for Uber. In the summer of 2017, I decided to pick up this side-hustle on a whim, driving only during weekdays because I wasn’t too keen on cleaning up the detritus of the Weekend Warrior crowd. Not a particularly lucrative investment hours-wise, but I enjoy the act of driving, and it was an easy and innocuous enough method of whiling away my summer vacation.

I anticipated some harassment of course – mostly microaggressions and unwanted flirtation due to my ethnicity, sex, age, appearance, what-have-you. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was a complex social experiment that revealed not only the varied demographics and practical mores of people who regularly depend on the kindness of strangers, but also my unwitting, and in some cases, privileged “tourism” in their lives.

From the derogatory comments I’ve received, to the subconscious, intersectional profiling I myself have engaged in, this colloquium presentation will explore the dirty little secrets of our increasingly “life-share” society, Uber’s own accountability in the transgressions and crimes reported and unreported on their platform, and how all this informs my work as an academic and artist in today’s “gig” economy.

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