When Taila Rouse boarded her flight to Atlanta, Georgia last week, she was still buzzing with excitement from her week-long stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she had just attended a conference for women who travel.
“I had the best time. I got in touch with so many women in the travel industry and felt really, really inspired,” Rouse tells Yahoo Life.
In the air, her mood soured when she saw the man in the middle seat next to her send and receive racist texts about her and others on the plane.
“I tried not to look at his phone, it was just something I happened to see,” says Rouse. “When I looked at his phone, the first thing that caught my attention was that he said to someone else, ‘I bet the big black woman next to you will be scared and grab you for the whole flight.’ Her seatmate replied that he was “wrong with it too”, which Rouse assumes was about her.
After seeing the first post, Rouse, who describes herself as a digital nomad, says she wasn’t particularly offended, but it did encourage her to read on. Rouse included part of the exchange, with two — “Hopefully the airlines will continue to raise prices and weed these people out” and that “Ryan is also stuck next to a big black woman” — included in a video Rouse posted to TikTok As the group conversation progressed, including multiple preconceived notions, she began to feel like she was going to explode.
She was in doubt whether or not to say something to him as she wasn’t sure it was her place since the words weren’t directly addressed to her. “I went back and forth with myself for a while, but I was furious,” she recalls.
Finally, Rouse spoke. “I didn’t want to say anything. But I’ve decided I want you to feel as uncomfortable as I do. And I want you to know that I’ve seen your texts and think you’re disgusting,” she told the man . recorded and shared on TikTok, where she has nearly 48,000 followers.
The man responded by asking Rouse, “What texts?” to which she replied, “You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not going to repeat it.”
She then mentioned some of the details she read, including the post suggesting that higher airfares would wipe out black travelers and concluded by telling him that he only said sorry for catching him.
She also says she “didn’t articulate myself as well as I thought [would]’, but is still glad she said something.
The man apologized and Rouse said he seemed “embarrassed” and avoided eye contact with her for the rest of the four-hour flight.
When she confronted him, Rouse said she was nervous and “felt like I was going to throw up.” She also had “no idea” how the man would react, but wouldn’t classify her nerves as fear; explaining their location made her feel a little more secure in the interaction.
“I can’t say I would have made the same decision if we had sat next to each other on the subway, or somewhere where I didn’t feel as protected. He and I both have to pack our bags and go through two security checks,” she says.
She initially posted the videos to TikTok and later to Instagram after deciding the experience was worth highlighting, especially with her platform in the travel space.
“I thought it was crazy that I was in a situation where I was in an environment where racism was rampant or even involved,” she says. As a travel content creator, Rouse knows the threat of bigotry is omnipresent, but she was shocked to experience it so close to home.
“Trip [isn’t] made equal for everyone. And I think the identities we have influence the way the world sees us. So it was insane for me to have that feeling already. But to be in that situation with someone from my own home country. And at a time when people are trying to convince us that there will be no more racism in 2023, there may be someone who feels that way and is literally sitting next to you,” she says.
After she posted the videos, she was bombarded with comments telling her she had no right to read his text or share the videos online.
But Rouse believes that if he was so concerned about privacy, the text shouldn’t have been so visible in a public setting.
She also made sure his face wasn’t included, as she didn’t want the man doxxed or identified, which she says denies claims she was “just doing this for influence.”
“Just because I didn’t post his face on the internet doesn’t mean I don’t have it. If I did it that way for influence or attention, I would have been one of those people who revealed his face.” and let the internet go berserk, looking for his job and things like that,” she says.
But according to Rouse, the vast majority of comments were supportive, with many users sharing that they were inspired by her to mention racist encounters they may encounter in their own lives.
And while she appreciates the sentiment, Rouse says she took a calculated risk and wouldn’t recommend her approach for every situation.
“I wouldn’t encourage people to necessarily make this decision in situations that would be unsafe for them,” she says.
She also doesn’t want her flying experience to discourage others from traveling.
“I truly believe that travel is the ultimate teacher, even if you’re not prepared for the lesson.”
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