Words: Elise Solé
A professional doula was tormented for 30 minutes by a fellow airline passenger who commanded that she “sit down” before police escorted the harasser away.
On Oct. 13, at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Na’Kesha Danyel Smith, a YouTube vlogger and a doula, was waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight to New Jersey to help deliver her best friend’s baby.
She was chatting with a male traveller about the military, a field her now-17-year-old daughter was 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.
“There are seats over there, I’m just telling you, there are seats over there,” said the woman says incessantly in the 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,” said the woman. “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. Her companion also said, “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. She asked a witness to call security, and police officers escorted the woman away.
“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.”
She 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, travellers congratulated her for being calm and were disappointed that she didn’t show 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 apologised 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?”
She 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. She is recognised 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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