“Doctor. Father of 5 kids (four of whom are also doctors). Husband. Grandfather. 69 years old. Human. Paying customer. He will soon be able to add — multi-millionaire and person who is able to fly anywhere at any time for free.”
That is the caption that I wrote above an article from CNN that I shared with Beatnik24 Facebook followers about the United Airlines incident.
A woman responded: “I don’t care if he was the neighborhood trash man. NO ONE deserves to be treated like he was treated. That was insane!” I and several others “liked” her post in agreement.
Of course, she’s right. Of course, no one deserves to be aggressively man-handled and dragged off an airplane because he refused to relinquish a seat that he had bought and reserved. No one.
But in reality, the fact that the one who was mishandled (abused, assaulted) is someone whom people instinctually see as a victim has had a significant effect on how this incident has been treated by the media and by the general public.
What if the person dragged off of the plane, wasn’t David Dao, a Chinese-American senior citizen, but Tremaine Howard, a 24 year-old Black man? Would the incident still have been taped? Would the tape still have been shared accompanied with pleas for someone to do something? Would the same White woman still have screamed from her seat with strong indignation at the cops, “this is wrong!” Would the general public (not just the African American community) still immediately be outraged, and immediately assume the innocence of the passenger and the guilt of the cops?
Or would the Brother immediately have been viewed with suspicion? “What did he do wrong? He must have done something wrong? Was he acting “aggressively?” Would the other passengers have looked on with curiosity, or even apprehension, instead of vexation?
I assert that if the passenger had been 24 year old Tremaine – rather than an Asian-American senior citizen — that after Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines placed the blame of the incident fully on the passenger’s shoulders by describing him as “disruptive and belligerent”; and then going on to state that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” the outrage would be mooted or missing entirely. Many, if not most of the public, would state the same sentiment they have argued every time a Black man has been shot, “if you follow the rules, you don’t get punished.”
Isn’t that what we’ve always heard? Yes, he was unarmed; but if he had just not broken the law (stolen cigarettes, sold illegal cigarettes, been speeding, etc.) the cops would not have had to shoot him. Had he cooperated and followed the rules, he would be alive today. Somehow, before the grand jury has even convened, and before any details of the case have been uncovered, every Black man who gets wrongly treated or killed by the police isn’t only of poor character, but fully responsible for his death.
Put bluntly, Black men can’t be victims in America — at least not in most people’s eyes.
No one deserves to be treated the way Dr. Dao was; but how his abuse has been and will continue to be treated is very much based on the fact that he is a “someone” — someone whom more than his immediate community can feel protective of. Dr. Dao is undoubtedly a victim. But strikingly, in America, even the ability to be a victim, to be deemed worthy of protection, to be seen and be “someone” is a privilege for a Black man. Because for some, indeed for many, he is no one.