The Crusader Newspaper Group

If United Airlines passenger was Black, would nation have reacted the same?

By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

Even those scared to say it aloud still think about how the reaction to this United Airlines fiasco would have been different had the passenger forced from the plane been African American. It is a compelling, inescapable thought.

Would there have been such adamant righteous indignation in the voices of those who witnessed the debacle on the plane?

Would folks have raced to video record the moment and post on social media decrying the gross injustice?

Would United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz have rushed to give multiple apologies, coupled with a confession of impropriety on the part of police handling the ordeal?

Would the airline’s stock have plummeted, followed by changes in policy to offer passengers up to $10,000 to give up seats on overbooked flights?

Would the President of the United States have weighed in on the matter and called the fiasco “horrible”—suggesting no cap on offers for passengers to change flights?

Perhaps most intriguing, would the video have gone viral and mass media coverage have been around the clock for weeks if the man forcefully ejected was Black?

We would all love to believe the race of the person made no difference. We want to think that the good nature of people of conscience would have resulted in the same level of outrage and protest even if it had been an African American man (or woman).

It is almost cathartic to think that all the shows of support for the victim would have been precisely the same for a Black person who refused to give up his or her seat on a major airline before being dragged off kicking and screaming by police. Who would deny sympathy in the wake of such blatant abuse – atrocities caught on film for the world to see?

We really need to believe that if an African American man or woman was treated the same by a major airline, the reaction of the nation would have been the same. That is what we desperately would like to think.

In truth, recognition of the mistreatment of Black men and women past and present compels us to confess that it would not have been the same reaction; that things would have been drastically different had the passenger been Black as opposed to Asian because history is a teacher.

Put it like this, when unarmed African American males are shot and killed in this country under suspicious police interactions, the reaction is too often as follows:

  • Law enforcement is a difficult job and police need our support, not criticism.
  • There must first be investigation into the past of the ejected passenger.
  • He should have simply cooperated and obeyed orders to leave the flight.
  • Police did what they had to do under life threatening circumstances.
  • It is a shame how the ruckus created a disturbance for other passengers.
  • Airlines have the right to remove passengers from the aircraft at any point.

Some immediately decry this challenge of American attitudes as another instance of Black folks “playing ‘the race card.’” Any such allegation is intellectually dishonest. When race is the prevailing factor regarding how you are treated, it would be pure lunacy to ignore that reality. A racial implication is not cynicism but a genuine quest for truth.

That truth is Black folks don’t get that kind of reaction when a teenager eating Skittles is attacked by a vigilante and killed. We can’t muster that kind of anger when a teenager is shot with his hands up and left bleeding in the middle of a neighborhood street for more than four hours.

African Americans don’t draw that level of empathy even when a man is caught on camera being choked to death by police, ignoring cries that he can’t breathe. There isn’t sympathy for a Black teenager shot to death in the back by police or a 12-year-old with a toy gun slain the moment an incompetent cop springs from his patrol car.

America did not direct this level of angst toward a school teacher’s execution by police in a parked car with a female companion and child or a woman arrested for a minor traffic violation found hanged and dead a day or two later in her jail cell.

Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The brutality continues with impunity every day in the streets of America – without a word of umbrage from the White House, Congress, the news media or anywhere else. When it comes to Blacks, nobody cares.

David Dao reportedly suffered a broken nose, lost teeth, and a concussion when he resisted police on his United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. However unjust, he will survive. The men and women to whom I alluded earlier are gone forever.

There is something dreadfully, pain-fully wrong with this picture.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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