Editor’s Note: For reasons of privacy, the author of this story wishes to remain anonymous.
It seems like every day, there’s a new video uploaded to social media that depicts a shocking story of someone acting inappropriately.
They might be shouting at the person behind the camera, screaming obscenities — or worse, racial epithets — getting out their seemingly pent up rage on an unsuspecting victim. The person filming usually turns to their Facebook or Twitter account in an attempt to publicly shame and perhaps finger the culprit, turning the situtation into real-life consequences for the attacker. And while the news spreads like wildfire, with viewers gobbling up the information as greedily as it comes through their feed, there’s often an untold story behind what happened — a reason for the rage-filled venting session gone viral. Social media can quickly turn an argument gone wrong into something more than it actually was and vilify a completely innocent, albeit loudly aggrieved, person.
And it almost happened to my husband.
We were at the airport after wrapping up a visit to my family and were on our way home to Los Angeles. It was the end of Thanksgiving weekend, so everyone was in a rush to get back to reality after a tryptophan-laden holiday. We drudged through security, slowly but surely, with the herd of travelers anxious to get home. After clearing the first TSA agent with my boarding pass, I stepped forward to take my place in line.
Suddenly, a young woman darted in front of me, cutting ahead in line. In the process, she very obviously rolled over the top part of my foot with her heavy baggage. It was a brief moment of surprising discomfort, but nothing that painful. Shockingly, the woman didn’t apologize for her action and instead pretended that nothing happened, despite having to adjust her arm for the unplanned bump her luggage encountered. I scoffed and made eye contact with my husband, and whispered to him what had just happened as to not make a scene.
He, in turn, also scoffed, but louder, his gaze moving to her direction. She heard the second one, and she whipped around, meeting his eyes.
“What, you gotta problem?” she asked, sharply.
My husband didn’t break eye contact. “Why did you run over her foot?” he replied, calmly but firmly.
“You gotta problem, bitch? Yo, I’m from CAL-I-FOR-NI-A. Where are you going, Idaho?” she seethed, mockingly.
I stared in disbelief. What was happening?
“I’m headed to LA, too,” my husband responded, calmly, but clearly more upset by her escalation.
“I guess I’ll see you there. And if you gotta problem with me, you shouldn’t stare at people like a little bitch and tell me to my face instead,” she sneered, inching closer to him, puffing her chest and getting in his face.
My husband bristled but didn’t budge. “Why are you running over people’s feet like that? If you do something like that, you should apologize.”
“Aww, trying to protect your little girlfriend?” she taunted.
That one got to him. “Don’t disrespect my WIFE,” he enunciated, voice clearly louder (but not shouting).
At this point, other people around us had stopped talking amongst themselves and started to listen to the unfolding argument. The woman instantly went from aggressive and volatile to withdrawn and seemingly helpless. She quickly looked around the room. “Yo, security! Can someone get this guy out of here?” she asked, recoiling.
I was stunned. This woman had just subjected my husband to verbal abuse, calling him derogatory names and insinuating that Idaho was inferior (I still don’t know why), to playing the victim when she felt cornered. Surely, people around us had seen what had just happened and would realize she was the one that started the entire thing, right? Right?
The crowd started turning on us. “Yeah, the guy in the plaid. Can you do something about him?” one guy yelled out, pointing in our direction. Another woman clucked her tongue, staring disapprovingly at my husband.
Wait — he’s the bad guy? Did they not see what just happened??
A TSA agent walked over to the edge of the packed crowd, unable to move further due to the sheer number of people. “Look, it’s the holidays. Tensions are high, lots of people are travelling… I don’t want to have a problem. Do we have a problem here?” He pleaded with us.
I quickly responded before anyone else could say anything. “We don’t have a problem at all — we just want to get home, like everyone else.” I said, trying to defuse the situation.
The agent looked relieved. “Awesome, let’s keep the line moving then!” he hurriedly said before disappearing back to his post.
The woman stammered after him, “wait, I have a problem…” she muttered unconvincingly, quietly trailing off.
She then turned her sights back to us as the crowd started to disperse.
“You little bitch. Who raised you?” she quietly said to my husband.
I maneuvered my way in between them again so that they’d be separated; I was certain my husband wouldn’t do anything, but her words showed me that she was unpredictable. She kept repeating the same insult, same phrase. “You little bitch. Who raised you? Who raised you?” Over and over again, like a broken, disgruntled record.
I kept my calm, but felt like I had to say something. “Look, if you run over someone’s foot in an attempt to cut in line, the least you should do is apologize.”
“Bitch. Who fucking raised you?” she snarled.
I scoffed again. “Okay well then, if you don’t like us, don’t talk to us.”
She did stop hurling insults at us, but it was most likely because she had to go through the baggage screening and not because I said anything. I waited until all her bags were in the trays and she had started moving before I put my possessions on the machine, so that any accidental bumps or touches could be avoided, as I now feared she’d use that against us. I made chitchat with the agents moving bags along, talking about mutual interests prompted by my bag’s design (Pokémon). I started to relax, thinking everything was over.
As I got through the x-ray machine and waited for my husband to do the same, I saw another TSA agent speaking with the woman, who now seemed to be quietly fuming with her tail between her legs. “Ugh. Men like that think they own the place,” I heard the agent say to the woman.
My husband came through and started collecting his things. “Don’t touch that yet, sir!” She barked in a booming, gruff voice. He complied, and after a few seconds she gave the go-ahead. It was unclear why she had stopped him and she didn’t offer an explanation.
As he bent over to put on his shoes, the agent pantomimed an act of violence against my husband: she raised her back hand to him and made a slapping gesture, but stopped at the last moment before contact. “He just makes me so mad for you, you know? I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you. Really wish I could hit him,” she said to the woman, trying to comfort her.
“It’s okay, thank you, I appreciate it,” she purred back, with gratitude and a renewed energy in her clearly shaky voice before heading to the gate.
It was at that moment that I realized how dangerous these situations are for any party involved. The camera wouldn’t have started rolling when the woman ran over my foot with her luggage and cut in line. It wouldn’t have started with her calling my husband a bitch or getting in his face. But it would have started when my husband, tired of being face-to-face with an unnecessarily aggressive person, raised his voice in an attempt to protect me. He would have been labeled the evil man taking out random anger on a helpless, innocent woman. And there would have been — and already had been — negative consequences based on misconceptions and preconceived notions on what had transpired.
I felt so helpless.
I explained to my husband what the agent had done once we arrived at the gate. He shrugged it off. “Of course. The big, bad Asian man isn’t going to get support, but the small, pretty woman will have White knights flocking to her. What did you expect?”
I guess he was used to this.
As we waited at the counter, the woman came around the corner and noticed us. She pulled out her phone and appeared to be busy in conversation, picking up the pace and moving towards us. As she passed by us, she called out to my husband. “You little bitch,” she goaded, staring daggers into his soul.
My husband blew her a kiss as he winked and grinned at her scowling face.
She quickly walked away, breaking her venomous stare and buried herself in her phone.
We didn’t sit next to each other on the plane (thank God) and I briefly saw her exit the airport as we retrieved our luggage, so there were no further interactions with the woman; however, I couldn’t get the altercation out of my head. What if someone filmed the incident? What if she had someone waiting to follow us home? What if she had, unbeknownst to us, taken our photos and asked social media to somehow track us down to publicly shame us — or worse, affect our livelihoods by calling our places of employment or other forms of harassment?
All over a misunderstanding in a line at an airport?
Those fears stuck with me, but ultimately the scenarios didn’t come to pass. Life went on, we’ve kept our jobs, and no one has put a hit out on us. But as viral news stories come and go, some clear cut, others vague, I often wonder what happened before the camera started rolling. While some videos certainly warrant judgement (racial epithets, sexism/sexual assault, and violence are never okay), others make me question the whole story. Could it be that we’re only hearing one emotionally-charged side? Is there information that we’re missing? Maybe there’s more that meets the eye?
It’s definitely changed me.
With each passing day and each passing viral video, I watch intently. I watch with skepticism. I realize that the video started rolling long after the altercation did. And if it looks like it could go either way, I wait until I pass judgement. I avoid making knee-jerk reactions. And I’ve stopped commenting any extreme opinions on these kinds of videos. Because while the initial inflammatory incident will likely go viral, the other side to the story rarely does, and I don’t want to contribute to unnecessary pain if I can avoid it.
Despite the abuse, I consider us to be lucky — we could have endured a social media shit-storm — but I’ve learned my lesson, and since then I’ve tried my best to do my due diligence with these stories, lest I do to another what I feared would be done to us.