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Does it Matter That The United Dragging Victim is Asian?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The video of Dr. David Dao, with blood on his face and his shirt up, being dragged off a United Airline plane by a security guard sparked outrage and wide condemnation, not just in the U.S., but also in China. It was viewed over 600 million times through China's Twitter-like service, Weibo, provided by While in the U.S., media and public largely focused on United's poor customer service and PR fiasco afterwards, Chinese netizens zeroed in on Dr. Dao's race.

Dr. Dao was first reported as a Chinese American, but later reports identified him as a Vietnamese American. But this later correction doesn't matter to millions of Chinese who viewed the video and expressed their anger online. To many, Dr. Dao's last name suggested his ethnicity is Chinese. America has long been portrayed by the Chinese Communist propaganda as a dark, corrupted and cruel place to the oppressed masses. Not surprisingly, China's state media joined the chorus of condemnation and called United "arrogant and cold blooded."

As James Palmer pointed out in his latest essay, even though "arbitrary use of force is common in China, particularly in the countryside and among the poor," the brutal treatment of Dr. Dao "reminded Chinese people everything they hate about the United States."  It served the authority's narrative that "not only is America hypocritical and violent, but it will never treat Chinese with the respect they deserve."

Some  in U.S. are embracing that narrative too.  A Chinese student started a White House petition called #Chineselivesmatter, which has collected over 188,000 signatures in merely three days. Some on Reddit wanted to change the slogan to #AllAsianLivesmatter, so "white America will take a second to think when it comes to discriminating against Asian men."

Clio Chang, a writer for the New Republic, recently wrote why it's a problem that American mainstream media and the general public's outrage left out the discussion of Dr. Dao's race.  He blames the "model minority” label placed on Asian-Americans by white Americans, which suits "a racial narrative that shows that white people are perfectly capable of living in harmony with people of color as long as they work hard and play by the rules. Prejudice against Asian-Americans, not to mention state violence, is often papered over."  Steven Thrasher of The Guardian echoed Chang's point that he believed Asians' "model minority" label rests on being obedient and "refusal to defer to authority would quickly revoke that status."

Both Chang and Thrasher implied that the root cause of using force against Dr. Dao was due to the fact that as an Asian, he broken the racial stereotype of obedience. They both asked the question "Would the police have really done that to a white person?"

There are many facts about this incidents that are still unknown at this point. From what I have gathered, United Airlines and the Chicago police officers' actions were senseless, despicable and dumb. This whole incident is an example of terrible customer service and the failure of United’s corporate culture. 

But should this incident be treated "as part of a pattern of prejudice in this country—violent and otherwise—against people of color?" Does it matter that the United dragging victim is Asian? Or in other words, should we always look through a racial lenses if something happens to a minority?

It's reported that United randomly chose four passengers, including Dr. Dao, to get off after no one volunteered to leave the plane. We don't know the race and gender of the other three passengers. One could argue racial discrimination if all four passengers were minorities. But I doubt that's the case. Whoever among the United crew that decided to do it the way they did was dumb, but not that dumb. Nevertheless, they were determined to kick four passengers off the plane in order to make room for their own staff. So anyone who put up resistance like Dr. Dao did probably would have faced similar brutal treatment.

What happened to Dr. Dao could have happened to anyone, regardless of race, because United Airlines isn't known for stellar customer service. Remember not so long ago it barred two girls from boarding a plane because they wore leggings? The root cause of poor customer service is a toxic corporate culture that doesn't treat its customers with respect and dignity. And the initial response from the United CEO Oscar Munoz shows that he, the man on the top of the corporation, is fully responsible for such toxic corporate culture. I won't reward such organization with my dollar; therefore, I'll gladly join the boycott and never fly United again.

In the meantime, I reject the conclusion that a horrible customer service incident now, suddenly, should be treated as a proof of white America discriminating against Asians because of Dr. Dao's race. Even Clio Chang recognized some challenges to make such a leap. In his own words, Chang acknowledged that "this particular incident is complicated by the fact that the cop (who dragged Dr. Dao) appears to be African-American." He seemed to imply that had the cop been white, this incident would be an indisputable example of violence and discrimination against people of color.

What I found to be true racial discrimination is this insistence that Asians are called "model minority" because we are obedient. Yes, Asians suffered much historical racial discrimination here in the U.S., as Steven Thrasher summarized in his opinion piece. But we have responded to such bigotry with courage, common sense and determination since day one. There has been no shortage of Asians challenging anti-Asian laws and ordinances in courts since the 19th century. Just recently, I wrote about four landmark cases brought by Asian Americans to the U.S. Supreme Court to show that Asian Americans are not a "submissive" bunch. We have always been very active in defending our constitutionally protected rights and helped shape our nation's character.

Asians are the model minority because historically, we refused to play the victim card no matter how difficult life was and how many challenges we faced. Asians have never been the darling of the grievance industry because we didn't demand that someone or some group be held responsible for the outcome of our own lives. Instead, we ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to make my life better?” and then make it happen. Consequently, we have enormous success to show for it.  Yet, some people refer to Asians' self-reliant attitude as an effort to "act white" and our success only "suggests that Asians in America have more in common with white people than non-white people." Unfortunately, some Asian youths today have bought into these racialist arguments wholeheartedly without knowing that the emphasis on self-reliance and hard work are neither white values nor Asian values, they are the key ingredients to anyone who wants to live a productive and meaningful life.

Since 2013, Asians have replaced Hispanics to become the fastest growing ethnic group in America and China replaced Mexico as the top country that sends the most new immigrants to the U.S. If it's true that America today systematically discriminates against Asians, why would so many Asians, including the Chinese, still want to come here in such large numbers?

There's no doubt that racial discrimination still exit in America today. I have lived in America for 20 years and I can count with one hand a few discriminating incidents I personally experienced.  But I do not see them as the result of a system failure, rather, I see each incident as a moral failure of those individuals who believed they were somehow superior because of their race.

Dr. Dao's race is not what matters in this United fiasco. United was wrong and they will pay dearly for it. What also matters is what lessons the rest of us choose to learn from this incident and how we choose to move forward as a nation and people.

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