This video blew up Facebook and other social networking platforms this week:
If you can’t or don’t want to watch and listen right now, it depicts a white man boarding a Brooklyn bus occupied mostly by African-Americans. He approaches a black woman and asks for her seat, suggesting she decamp to the back of the bus.
Of course the rest of the commuters go ballistic, and in the shouting match that follows, the man makes many racist comments, and suggests that the country will improve if Donald Sterling becomes President in 2016.
As of this writing, the video (originally posted to Facebook by Zaida Pugh) has been shared 135,946 times on Facebook. I perused the shares, and many of them are accompanied by text along the lines of “This is still a racist nation!” or “In 2014 this happens?!” The outrage is bright and visceral.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. It’s fake. The whole thing was staged. Zaida Pugh is an aspiring actress, and the incident on the bus is the latest in a series of pranks she has produced for her YouTube channel.
Here’s what she says there at her “About” tab:
Hey everyone’ welcome to Msmuffin’s channel..if you like to watch comedy pranks, you’ve came to the right darn channel ;p..I hope you enjoy my videos. If you like my videos..I would appreciate it if you subscribe and share my videos.. If you have questions or interests be sure to contact meh..I wish the best to you all and stay strong ..and oh do me a big fav keep a smile on them beautiful faces, life’s too short to be stressing ;)..stay tooned you guys have a great day
And if you’re still not convinced, here’s an interview with Ms. Pugh from earlier this year. It was written before the bus video was released, but she discusses some of her earlier pranks and her sense of humor.
It’s hard to fault people for not “getting” that this was a prank. People like to feel good about themselves, and they do feel good when they can call out overt racism like this appears to be. The prank also feeds a background cynicism that many people have about the world, especially within Internet culture. They’re easily convinced that the world is as bad a place as they suspect it to be.
Still, there are a few clues that should have tipped people off. First: yes, racism still exists in the United States of 2014. There’s ample statistical evidence of this. African-Americans have worse luck with the criminal justice system than whites, for one example. Stop and frisk laws and racial profiling have led to harassment for most nonwhite minorities in the U.S. And who can deny that the Trayvon Martin incident would have turned out very differently if Mr. Martin hadn’t been black?
However, here’s the thing: most American racists are aware that racism is unpopular. Simply in the interest of self-preservation, a racist man is not going to get onto a bus populated by the people he dislikes, ignore several empty seats, and then ask one of those people to move for his sake. If he did, it’s his sanity we’d question more than his tolerance.
Second, a white man on a bus asking a black woman to move is an iconic scenario, obviously harking back to Rosa Parks in Montgomery. Its specificity (again, remembering there were many empty seats on the bus) makes it unlikely to be real. If a man grabbed a microphone away from an honoree at an awards show, you’d be suspicious, even if it were captured by cellphone in a way that seemed candid. The same goes for this.
Many websites and YouTube channels these days seem determined to have their fictional content accepted as true. I’ll explore this more deeply in a later post. For now, be wary of, but entertained by, Zaida Pugh.