We live in a culture that destroyed the American dream with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in World War II, the racial college acceptance quotas, and the “bamboo ceiling” of Fortune 500 companies. We live in a culture that encourages Asians to stay silent, to stay down, and to stay like the “model minority.”
Last week, United Airlines passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from his oversold United Airlines flight and dragged down the aisle of the airplane when he refused to relinquish his seat. Passengers shared videos of bloodied and screaming Dao, and the incident immediately went viral. The beating of a passenger, who paid for his ticket and was allowed to board the plane, is inhumane and saddening.
What was even more disheartening was the media’s response. Newspaper agencies published articles titled, “Doctor dragged off flight was convicted of trading drugs for sex,” “United passenger traded drugs for gay sex with patient,”, and “Doctor dragged off United flight was convicted of multiple felony drug charges in 2004” These articles reveal the priorities of our society. Instead of examining the senseless brutality and injustice committed by United Airlines, our news outlets are digging up Dao’s past, searching for a justification of United Airline’s actions. None of Dao’s past felonies, however, can justify the airline’s action.
Furthermore, whether or not the incident itself was racially fuelled (United claims that Dao was selected randomly), the media reaction perpetrated the widespread negativity in news coverage of minorities. Distorted images of minorities are prevalent in news media, as news reports often frame us as aliens, foreigners, villains, or as being unlawful or criminal. Especially for the readers who have little to no direct contact with minorities, the news media holds the power to shape our narrative.
The media backlash Dao has faced is familiar to what victims of police brutality have been subjected to. Although instances of police violence against black men are on a drastically different scale and are in no way comparable to the United Airlines incident, news outlets reacted in the same way. For example, following the shooting of Michael Brown, instead of condemning the police department for undue violence, “The New York Times” published an article that claimed that the 18-year-old was “no angel,” implying that his death was justified because of the mistakes he had made in his past.
No victim, regardless of race, deserves to have their past dug up and published, especially when it has no apparent relevance to the incident.
The United Airlines dispute can serve as a launching point for discussion, a call for protest. The Asian-American demographic has remained silent to the “Yellow Peril” xenophobic theory imposed on us for too long. We cannot stand by as we are constantly portrayed as gang leaders, foreigners, and people who “rape the American economy,” and “steal American jobs.” While other minorities have rallied around acts of aggression and injustice, Asian-Americans have been absent from such efforts.
Recently, I attended the Asian-American Footsteps Conference at Andover. During the conference, I did not feel the pressure to represent my affinity group in a positive light, or the need to alter my experiences to avoid falling into the stereotypes that tell the single stories of my identity. And most importantly, I refused to stay silent. We must hold America accountable for how it portrays minorities, and more importantly, we must hold ourselves to a standard of active engagement, proactive protest, and continuous dialogue. Asians and Asian-Americans must make sure our identities are recognized and included in mainstream minority discussions.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” We need change, and change needs us. As Asian-Americans, we can no longer stay complacent in the face of oppression. We must rally around acts of injustice and make our voices heard over the din of those who would silence us.