Public Eye

Opinion: Race had nothing to do with David Dao’s treatment by United Airlines ... but try telling Chinese netizens that

Michael Chugani questions whether there would have been such a backlash had the victim been white or black and says emigrants cannot choose to be Chinese some of the time

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 6:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 6:16am

This will likely earn me brickbats but I’ll say it anyway. It fits into the political mindset of many Asians, especially mainland Chinese netizens, to paint David Dao’s treatment by United Airlines as another blatant example of American racism. But race had nothing to do with Dao being bumped.

I am Asian and have seen racism upfront in the US, my adopted country. But there is zero evidence United used ethnicity to select Dao as one of four passengers it bumped. Even his own lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, insisted racism was not a factor.

Horrifying images of a bloodied Dao being dragged from the plane sparked instant outrage among mainland Chinese netizens. It made me wonder if they would have reacted with equal rage had they realised right off Dao was not a mainlander but Vietnamese Chinese.

United passengers and Americans were outraged simply because they felt no human being should be treated that way. Dao’s ethnicity didn’t come into play.

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But ethnicity came fully into play on the mainland. Again, it made me wonder if there would have been such a backlash had the victim been white or black. There is never any outpouring of fury from Africa whenever cops beat up blacks in the US. The fury comes from the black community and other Americans.

If I am mistreated by United or anyone in the US, I want indignation from my fellow Americans, not from India where my parents came from. This is in no way a defence of United. What it did to Dao is unforgivable. But Chinese who emigrate to the US, France, or elsewhere, must decide what they want to be.

They cannot choose to be Chinese some of the time and American when it suits them. When French police mistreat Chinese immigrants, they must protest as French citizens, not as Chinese. And mainland Chinese should stay out of such matters because those mistreated are French citizens, not Chinese.

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Mainland Chinese, of course, have an absolute right to express outrage if Chinese nationals are mistreated in other countries. Indians were rightly incensed when American immigration twice detained Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, first in Newark in 2009, then in New York in 2012.

What I have said may not go down well with many. Truth sometimes hurts but it’s better to face it than to live by an alternative truth.