When the U.S. drops the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan as a worldwide
message, it’s time for a little sobering perspective.
Maybe we could take a little more time to treat all people with a little more
respect, fairness and dignity in our everyday lives. Person to person. And
certainly, corporation to consumer.
Which brings us to the viral bombshell of a story that won’t die.
If United, or anyone else, thought the dragging of Dr. David Dao was a
short-term headline that would go away with a simple apology, they were sorely
Dao’s tale is bigger than anyone thought. It’s soon to become the last stand for
the modern global consumer.
Dao, the 69-year-old man dragged off a United flight so that the airline could
seat its own employees, has hired Thomas Demetrio, a top-notch personal injury
lawyer based in Chicago. At a press conference Thursday, Demetrio made it clear
how he saw things.
Demetrio didn’t think the case was about race, even though Dao in one of the now
numerous cell phone videos could be heard asking if United was asking him to
leave the plane because he was Chinese. (At the press conference, Dao’s
daughter, Crystal, clarified that Dao immigrated from Vietnam.)
To further his point, Demetrio shared with the media an e-mail he’d received
from someone suggesting that Dao was the “modern day Asian Rosa Parks.”
“I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Demetrio said. “What happened to Dr. Dao
could have happened to any one of us.”
Demetrio said Dr. Dao “has come to understand that he’s the guy to stand up for
passengers going forward.”
In other words, he’s the universal little guy.
But race did come into play in one significant way when Dao told Demetrio how he
felt about the dragging. On one of the phone videos released, Dr. Dao was seen
crying out, “just kill me, just kill me.” A reporter asked what Dao meant by
“I asked him that question; here’s what he told me,” said Demetrio. “He said
that he left Vietnam in 1975 when Saigon fell. And he was on a boat. And he said
he was terrified. He said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying
and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam.”
If there’s a lawsuit coming, and indeed there is, I don’t think United stands a
As a writer on race issues in America, I’ve often wondered what one factor in
our society could become our common ground and end the pain of discrimination.
Twenty years ago, I thought age would allow us to see beyond race. The ageists
of the world have proved me wrong. In Dao, a 69-year old loving father with
multiple grandchildren, I think we have the answer.
He’s the battered consumer in this angry, short-tempered society, standing up to
Race? Not primary. It may have helped the Chicago Airport cops to see him as an
“other” so they could drag him away with zeal. But basically, race is
Dao was a seated ticket holder, a profit center to the corporation. And when it
didn’t need him anymore, it violently bullied Dao and treated him like crap.
We can all relate to that. It’s what I thought
on Monday when I first heard the story.
Now Dao is poised to become the one who fights for what all consumers deserve.
Demetrio said there were three things every consumer should demand: fairness,
respect, and dignity. “That’s it,” Demetrio said. “I hope Dao becomes the poster
child for all of us.”
It’s not the position that most Asian Americans willingly seek out. Most hold on
to the stereotype–unless you are chosen, and it’s beaten out of you.
And then there’s no other option but to speak up. You take a stand, and become
what I’ve long called since my Asian Week days: a “Public Asian.”
Dr. Dao wasn’t at the press conference.
Demetrio said he was at a secure location and appreciated if the media would
leave him alone. Ultimately, Dao will return to Louisville, but probably by car.
Said Demetrio: “He has no interest in ever seeing an airplane.”
Hear bits of the media conference in Ep. 9 of the AALDEF podcast Emil Amok’s Takeout.
I also interview an Asian American from Kentucky, Mimi Hwang. She talks about
the local reaction to Dao, who lives in the Louisville area, and gives her own
perspective as a business owner and as someone who has experienced what it feels like to be bullied
due to her Asian background. It happened to her family in 2015. She also says
that while the Dao story is empowering, the micro-community of Asians has little
voice and no support from social justice organizations.
I even mention if the community has heard from Elaine Chao, Secretary of
Transportation, who happens to be the wife of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.
No, Hwang said. But she’d welcome Chao’s support in the community.
Listen to Episode 9 on the Dao case on the AALDEF
podcast, Emil Amok’s Takeout.