An activist, who makes her living by helping people understand white supremacy, entered into a conversation with an Uber driver about the kind of work she does on the way to the airport in Orlando, Florida — and paid a price.
Marissa Jenae Johnson and her business partner Leslie Mac are co-founders of Safety Pin Box. As two black women, they also help people make better use of their privilege and become better allies in the struggle for black liberation.
Johnson was coming back from the annual BlogHer conference where she and Mac were honored with a 2017 Voice of the Year award for their work. She landed in a heated conversation with the driver, who was identified only as James, as he took the opportunity to brag about his slave-owning relatives and explained how compassionate they were.
He told Johnson that his great-grandfather was “so kind” that he gave the slaves his last name. He also added that his great-grandparents taught their slaves to read and write and let them go once they proved their literacy.
“About halfway through the conversation he segued really hard into telling me about the fact that his great-grandparents owned slaves and owned a plantation,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who is used to talking with white people about race, couldn’t let the driver’s comments go out without response.
“You own those people. It's not a humanitarian thing that now they have to have their kidnapper's name,” she said.
However, James didn’t back off and argued that his family “bought their slaves fair and square in Charleston” and didn't “kidnap” them.
The driver’s behavior started to grow extremely abusive and dangerous. Being a black woman trapped in the car with a racist white man was worrying Johnson. She only knew the details about him from the Uber app and nothing else.
As she grew uncomfortable, she feared for her safety and called her partner Mac to let her know what was happening. She inquired about where the driver was taking her and how far the airport was. Turned out, he was leaving her at a stranded Burger King completely out of way.
She told the driver his behavior was completely inappropriate. To that, he snapped and said, “Get the f*** out of my car and don't you ever get into my f****** car. It's dumb that I have to deal with you; you're a fat bitch anyway.”
After the incident, Johnson immediately complained about the driver. Uber responded by saying that they noted her complaint and in the future, wouldn’t pair her with the driver.
However, Johnson demanded accountability from Uber and said that it is important to raise this issue in order to make sure all women, especially women of color, are safe while using such rides.
Shocked by the incident, Mac wrote on Twitter, “We are not even safe to tell white people what we do as a business apparently because they might threaten us & racially attack us.”
1 reason why I'm not exactly thrilled that uber is now in Rochester: https://t.co/HI8CWbvu6f— Lauron Kehrer (@LauronKehrer) June 30, 2017
Again, Uber is the WORST.https://t.co/VwVJ2TJfAG— Warwick Johnson (@Warwick_Johnson) June 29, 2017