By Julian Canlas 

David Dao: the 69-year old Asian doctor physically assaulted by a security official, in an oversold United Airlines flight, in a video that went viral. David Dao: an ex-felon, convicted of exchanging prescription drugs for gay sex – his chequered past aired out in a media spectacle. 

“He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent,” the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, wrote in a leaked email, commending the staff “for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

Dehumanisation leads to demonization. David Dao ceases to be merely a random passenger. He becomes a cost, a liability. The implication arises from this email, and the online articles surrounding Dao, that Dao is somehow complicit for this violence, because of his past. The case for violence is right.

Colour doesn’t crack. But in this case it did – he did – blood spilling out of his mouth. 

This line of reasoning contains a logical fallacy. If Dao’s involuntary ‘deplaning’ was ‘random’, then his past was not a factor in the process, and, therefore, is not up for discussion. Readers have been quick to point this out. In a Daily Mail article revealing David Dao’s felonies, readers in the comments section call out this journalism as ‘gutter press’. Even fellow journalists denounce this unflattering coverage as a violation of journalistic ethics. In an opinion article for The Independent , Holly Baxter voices out similar concerns: “it doesn’t matter what David Dao did or didn’t do in his past, because none of it is relevant to whether or not he should have been left in hospital after boarding a flight home.” How does his past relate with the incident? Holly’s right. It doesn’t.

Just in the UK, Asians are disproportionately targeted by airport security, and I would not be surprised if similar numbers come up in the US. Vikram reports: “Asians make up 5% of the UK population, black people 3% and others 1%. White people make up 91% of the population. Where people are stopped and held for under an hour, the breakdown is: white people, 45% of stops; Asian people, 25%; black people, 8%; other ethnicities, 22%.”

69-years old. Almost seven decades. Colour doesn’t crack. But in this case it did – he did – blood spilling out of his mouth. Breaking his silence, David Dao says that everything is broken.

Why then should his being Asian contribute to the whole discussion, if not his past? Because this violence belongs to a history, in which people of colour have been deprived of public services, especially those also used by white Americans. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, Asian-American men have been subjected to laws that deprived them of land ownership, of working in heavy industries, and of having white partners. Forced to occupy jobs traditionally done by American women, these laws codified their undesirability. The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) effectively banned Chinese immigration to the US, so, in addition to these anti-miscegenation, land ownership and labour laws, Chinese Americans were forced to live in ghettos as second-class citizens, their lack of agency and representation still lingering today as a result of these historical forces.

David Dao is, as a body of colour, imperfect and unclean. His ‘model minority’ status quickly crumbles, and ‘model minority’ reveals itself as belonging in the mythology of positive assimilation. He becomes a ‘Chinaman‘, primitive and aggressive. He was disruptive, because he was an ex-convict. He is disruptive, because he is visible.

Jimmy Kimmel covers this very graphic, violent incident against the 69-year old Asian man. The audience laughs. Even in condemnation, a good mockery of the violence is done, and assumed to be acceptable, without second thought. Again, as I have already discussed in Norwich Radical, this levity conceals a more sinister act of casting Asian narratives aside as unimportant and unworthy of being seriously addressed.

Realising that the smear campaign didn’t work, after almost a loss of almost $1 bn, the CEO expressed an apology. Actually, as another bout of leaked emails reveal, the flight wasn’t overbooked. David Dao’s place was intended for staff. The CEO aapologised.

Featured image credit: Bloomberg

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