Will Those Outraged At United Airlines Fight For Black And Brown Lives?

Where will you be the next time other people of color are victimised?

Outrage has spread throughout the country this week because, among other reasons, a man who refused to give up his seat on a plane was forcibly dragged out of it. The CEO of United had to backtrack after calling Dao “disruptive and belligerent.” Then, USA Today’s Courier Journal brand, reported Dao’s prior arrest for “drug related offences,” saying, “broadcast and print coverage of Dao's arrest, conviction and sentencing made his name familiar to some Kentuckians.” (The verification of which is a fun story in itself.) Before this became a smear campaign, people were quick to fire back, correctly stating that just because one has been previously convicted of a crime does not mean injustice can never happen to them.

So here goes a man who is mistreated by officers on behalf of an already unpopular corporation, he is slandered in the press, and he decides to use his right to fight back. Great job, justice! Aren’t there parallels to Dr. David Dao and Rosa Parks, just as USA Today tweeted?

If you didn’t see the sarcasm in that last paragraph, then the rest of this article is especially for you.

A since-deleted USA Today tweet. Didn’t land well.
A since-deleted USA Today tweet. Didn’t land well.

First, a quick history lesson: A lot of people were taught that Rosa Parks was minding her own business on the bus one day and was then told to give up her seat to a white man, and that she decided to protest that order. This oversimplification obscures the fact that Rosa Parks and other Alabama civil rights activists had planned a bus boycott of this nature for long before that fateful December day. Dao was removed involuntarily on behalf of United.

Dao is not Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is Rosa Parks. But it’s okay, I won’t fault you for that mistake. Let’s move on.

Next, basic economics: A person, firm, or any economic actor will assess their opportunity costs during any transaction. How much opportunity (money) might United lose for not getting their crew to Louisville? How much money might someone onboard that flight gain (or opportunity one might lose) by missing the flight in return from compensation by United? When you look into all of the costs of flying, it’s certainly would have been more profitable for the company to have offered more to properly compensate those individuals who volunteer to be bumped off the plane.

$1000 was offered to anyone who would give up their seat, but United wouldn’t go above that figure. A contributor to Forbes wrote about a similar more successful situation about getting $11,000 from Delta Airlines, miraculously published just a day before this incident. This is not a perfect solution, but it’s certainly more profitable than the full refund that United will be giving all of those on the flight that infamous evening, plus the $255 million dive their stocks have taken, plus the fat lawsuit/settlement on their hands from Dao’s lawyer. United could choose to not pay up, and delay the plane until people do volunteer. Not ideal, but it’s one of the many costs of doing business.

Or...they could also not overbook altogether. This is less likely to happen, as the Transportation Department notes that out of the 86 million people who (unluckily) flew United in 2016, only 3,765 of those people were involuntarily bumped off of flights. Perhaps the general public wouldn’t hate United worse than the idea of a merger between Comcast and Walmart if they compensated people for their seat gambling mishaps. Or, if they allowed people to book, giving them the clear understanding that they won’t give them full refunds if they don’t show up, but partial refunds if they cancel, and you could even resell the tickets to stay efficient. It’s not hard to be not evil!

Airlines are worthy of frustration. (There was literally a TV show about it.) People have a right to be upset, and the American public seems very uniquely united against United on this one. Dao and millions of other travellers who experience similar injustices are victims of crony capitalism: when corporations use political and legal connections to continuously make profit regardless of “negative externalities” such as this incident. 

Where will you be the next time other people of color are victimised by crony capitalism?

 How does this tie in to people rushing to claim that Dr. Dao is the next Rosa Parks? Well, Black and Brown bodies are victims of crony capitalism as well; demonised and incarcerated at massively high levels to benefit the quarterly revenue of weapons manufacturers and private prisons, with no end in sight. There wouldn’t be an article in Fox Business titled, “Private Prison Firms Gain as Trump Plans to Crack Down on Crime, Illegal Immigration” if there were clear plans from the Trump administration to reform, support, or at the very least deport other human beings. This administration just wants to make sure that the incarceration industry gets their return on investment.

Yet I’ve noticed that some of my lovely friends of European and Asian descent have been extremely sympathetic to the Dao debacle, while these same people previously turned a blind eye to other incidents of violence against people of colour. (For more on the role of the model minority myth in all of this, Clio Chang at The New Republic wrote a great article)

So, to those of you who found yourselves angry at United for their mistreatment of someone, but you aren’t upset about these injustices as well, I have some questions for you: Where will you be the next time other people of color are victimised by crony capitalism?

Former Exxon Mobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Not that there’s a conflict of interest or anything.
Former Exxon Mobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Not that there’s a conflict of interest or anything.

It’s happening all around you. Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who quit his old job as Exxon Mobil CEO in December also happens to be part of an administration that is repealing regulations that prevent companies from polluting water. If you live in a poor neighbourhood, this is more likely to affect you regardless of your racial or ethnic background. With United, the prison industrial complex, and the oil industry, it’s clear: executives are more interested in profits than lives.

And even if this isn’t happening to you, where is your sympathy for that person and their access to something as basic as water? If you are mad at United, are you mad at the oil companies, too? Are you mad at the Trump administration for these actions? If you’re sympathetic to Dr. Dao, where was your sympathy for Philando Castile?

Here’s your chance to prove your ideological consistency. If Dao’s freedom, justice, and life matters — and you find that injustice relatable — and if all lives matter, do Black and Brown lives matter too?

And they don’t matter to you, why not?