Even if you haven’t actually watched the video itself, if you’ve been online at all in the past few days, there’s little doubt that you’ve come across at least one article, blog post, story, status message, or tweet about the male Cleveland bus driver who punched an unruly female passenger. Some stories have legs, and others have legs…attached to wheels. And, with over 1.5 million views in the first four days, it’s safe to say that this story possesses the latter.
A quick scour of YouTube or WSHH, though, would show that dozens of similarly violent videos find their way to those sites every week. What made this video unique enough to garner so much attention? I have a few theories.
1. It’s a Rorschach test
Because of people’s mixed reactions behind who was to blame (The passenger? The driver? The other patrons?), the role gender and gender expectations play, and the racial aspect of it (If the race of either of the participants were different, the outcome likely would have been different.), 20 people can look at this video and come away with 20 different conclusions.
2. The punch itself is impervious to hyperbole
The uppercut the bus driver gave to the unruly passenger was so sudden, so violent, so brutal, so video game-esque that any adjective a person would use to describe it would fit and any reaction it induced would be believable.
3. Also — and this point can’t be understated — there is a bit of classism involved with this video going viral
Because the video involved a “typical hoodrat” and a man with an unglamorous job and it took place on public transportation, I’ve noticed a detached voyeuristicness when certain people are discussing it. And by “certain people” I mean “Black people I know — myself included.” Deconstructing is an inherently hierarchical activity that has the tendency to place you above the people being examined while also dehumanizing them. Are we consciously attempting to act this way? No. But, I can’t deny the fact that part of the reason why it’s been shared so much is that, on some subconscious level, the sharers are placing themselves above the people in the video.
A little over a week ago, though, another video capturing random street violence found its way to the internet, a video you probably haven’t seen. In it, a middle-aged White man (who was later determined to be a teacher at Pittsburgh’s CAPA High School) is walking down an alley, about to walk past a group of five or six Black teens. As he nears them, one of the teens sucker punches him, knocking the teacher out. The rest of the teens barely break their strides as they continue walking.
In my opinion, this clip is even more disturbing than the bus video, as the attack was completely unprovoked and was given with enough force to knock the victim unconscious. Yet, this video didn’t go viral, and the reasons why — well, my theories for the reasons why — are a bit sobering.
The facts present in the video leave no room for ambiguity. Basically, a White man is jumped by a group of Black kids, they walk away laughing, and, although this is tough to determine with the grainy picture, the people who come to his aid look to be the only other White people in the alley. It wasn’t shared, viewed, and joked about millions of times by us (Black people) because there’s real no opportunity here for classism or detached voyeurism. When it’s nothing but a certain ‘”type” of Black people behaving badly, we can chalk it up to “hood n*ggas” acting like “hood n*ggas” and sit back and observe, critique, and even laugh. But, when the perpetrator is Black and the victim is White, it’s just not as easy to psychologically distance ourselves from that. We also know on a subconscious level that if the race of the participants were reversed — a group of White kids jumping a middle-aged Black teacher — it would have spread like wildfire, and this does feel (at best) hypocritical and (at worst) intentionally dishonest.
To put it bluntly, this video makes us (Black people in general, and Black males in particular) look bad, and it didn’t go viral because we wish for things like this to be suppressed instead of shared.