Asian Americans question if race played a role in United Airlines incident

A United Express flight. (Photo by United Airlines.)

The recent incident of an Asian doctor being dragged off a United Airlines airplane has opened a conversation about whether discrimination against Asians and the myth of the model minority may have played a role in how the man was treated.

David Dao refused to leave, explaining he was a doctor who had to see patients in the morning. Passengers reported that he complained that he was being singled out because he was Asian, passenger Tyler Bridges told the New York Times. Dao is Vietnamese American and he fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, his family said.

Dao’s family and attorneys held a press conference on Thursday and said that he suffered a concussion and had his nose broken and some teeth knocked out after Chicago Aviation Police forcibly removed him from a Chicago to Louisville flight. United Airlines said the crew had selected four passengers to remove from the plane to make room for employees who needed to be in Louisville.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also called for an investigation into the incident on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The incident went viral worldwide, especially in China where more than 550 million people had viewed a blog post about the incident on the Chinese blogging website Weibo, said the New York Times.

Chinese American comedian Joe Wong questioned why of all the passengers, Dao was selected, and pointed on Weibo and Twitter that discrimination against Asians often gets ignored because many who are affected don’t speak out, the New York Times reported.

Eric Chen,University of Washington Asian Student Commission Assistant Director, said it troubled him that the airline looked for “volunteers” to leave the flight, which Dao obviously was not. Chen wondered what would have happened if the Dao had been white.

Steven W. Thrasher, a columnist for The Guardian who writes on race, also questioned whether the idea Dao’s ethnicity had played into how the incident escalated.

“Any possible Asian ‘model minority’ status can be withdrawn at any time; refusal to defer to authority would quickly revoke that status,” he wrote. “What message does this incident send to Asians and Asian Americans? It reinforces that they had better obey, or else.”