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Video of a tense exchange between airline customers is going viral this week, with one of the women involved saying racism was to blame.
The situation occurred on Oct. 13 at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, where Na’Kesha Danyel Smith, a YouTube vlogger and doula, was waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight to New Jersey to be assist in the birth of best friend’s baby.
As she was chatting with a male traveler about the military, a field her now-17-year-old daughter is interested in entering, “This woman just walked up to us and said, ‘Sit down,'” Danyel Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was like, ‘Who is she talking to? I am 45 years old. No one has told me to sit down in decades.'”
The mom-of-two filmed the woman when she refused to leave them alone. “I and the gentleman were the only two black people in the area, so I wasn’t sure where this would lead,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the unidentified woman, showing no discernible emotion, tells Danyel Smith over and over again, “There are seats over there, I’m just telling you, there are seats over there,” according to Danyel Smith’s 22-minute video.
“You’ve said that 27 times,” answered Danyel Smith. “I didn’t ask you for a seat, ma’am.”
“There are seats over there, you’re having a conversation, there are seats over there,” the woman said. “This is a line. I am in line.”
Danyel Smith asked the woman to go away and why she was concerned about whether she stood or sat. The man speaking with Danyel Smith’s added, “It’s amazing how our conversation… is only bothering you.”
“This is white privilege,” said Danyel Smith.
A female security guard told the woman to stop, but she persisted, even saying Danyel Smith and her friend could find seats next to each other. “There are so many seats!” she proclaimed.
Danyel Smith told the man she feared for her life because the woman had moved physically closer. All the while, the woman kept encouraging her to sit down. Danyel Smith asked a witness to call security, and police officers escorted the woman away.
Danyel Smith posted to her YouTube channel, where it was picked up by Atlanta Black Star. Altogether the video has roughly 1.5 million views.
“I don’t know whether this woman had a mental illness or it was racial profiling because we were the only black people in line,” Danyel Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But her white privilege made her think she could ask me to move, for whatever reason.”
Danyel Smith regrets never learning the man’s name. “He helped by telling me to focus on him,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He’s military, so he’s used to people screaming at him.” After the woman was led away, travelers congratulated her for being calm, but expressed disappointment over Danyel Smith not showing concern for the woman’s mental state.
“The worst part is, aside from the man — who was my guardian angel — and the female security guard who apologized to me, no one defended me,” Danyel Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was the victim, yet people were telling me I should make sure the woman was OK and that she didn’t miss her flight?”
Danyel Smith says that after providing her contact information to gate agents in the hopes that someone would follow up with her, she boarded the flight to New Jersey in tears.
Danyel Smith says she is recognized often in public now — one driver rolled down his window in traffic to jokingly yell, “There are seats over there!” and a Walmart shopper stopped her in the aisle to chat about the video.
“[As a black woman], I don’t go anywhere without my fully charged cellphone and a battery pack in my purse,” Danyel Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’ve also had to speak to my children about getting singled out in public in ways that white people may not.”
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “We were disheartened to watch the video and learn of the mistreatment of these customers by another passenger. Our employees intervened to offer assistance and diffuse the situation in a calm and professional manner, and they asked local law enforcement officers to become involved. The passenger who instigated the incident refused to cooperate, and she was eventually escorted from the airport by local law enforcement. We sincerely regret the unpleasant experience this situation created for all of our customers who witnessed the event, and most especially the two customers who were directly impacted. We are reaching out to them to offer our personal apologies and invite them back for a much more pleasant experience.”
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