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A full plane, a public relations disaster, a conversation about race

May 11, 2017

The United incident re-ignites conversations about race

Four passengers chosen at random on a United Airlines flight were asked to exit the plane due to an overbooked flight in order to make room for crew-members Monday, April 10.

After being chosen by a computer generator, one of the passengers, Dr. David Dao, refused to be removed from his seat. In response, security officers dragged him off the plane. While they forcibly pulled him out of his seat by his hands, his shirt raised above his midriff and blood trickled down his face. Multiple passengers took videos of the incident; in the background, muffled yells and complaints of the other passengers can be heard as they questioned the morality and acceptability of the security officers’ treatment of this man.

The videos attracted extensive publicity and can be found all over the internet. Dao, whose heritage is Chinese, highlighted his ethnicity as the reason behind his treatment. Dao then chose to file a lawsuit against United Airlines for the injuries he received. During the incident, Dao obtained a concussion, broke his nose and lost two teeth. He has since reached a settlement with United Airlines for an undisclosed amount of money.

United Airlines received wide backlash for this occurrence. According to The New York Times, passengers on the flight and members of the global Asian community have claimed that Dao was not in fact chosen at random. Instead, United Airlines is accused of selecting this man for his Chinese ethnicity, not simply by a computer generator.

United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart addressed the public’s concerns that the selection process was not completely random. In an interview with CNN, Hobart told the news organization that United’s algorithm for removing passengers considers a variety of factors, none of which involve race. Instead, the algorithm considers connecting flights and how long a passenger’s delay will be; it also tries not to separate families or remove minors and people with disabilities.

Less coverage, more prejudice

Since the incident, shares of United dropped 6.3 percent in pre-market trading. The world reacted quickly once news of this incident was communicated to the public – alongside the memes and parody videos created in response, more people are stepping forward claiming that they were asked to leave overbooked flights or move seats for unfair reasons.

Although the United incident ultimately had nothing to do with Dao’s race, the conversations surrounding it confirm that racism is far from over. Despite considerable efforts to terminate counts of prejudice in the United States and globally, many incidents — some that received much less media coverage — still occur that involve unjust treatment and discrimination of people for reasons such as ethnicity, religion or other cultural differences.

One such incident occurred Sunday, April 16, when some citizens in Austin, Texas decorated their Easter eggs with phrases like “celebrating white culture.” Pamphlets could be found inside of the eggs that were about “securing the future for white children.”

According to the city’s local CBS News outlet, the community was mortified about this display of hate. Social media posts reported that about a dozen people found these eggs in their community, including a 9-year-old girl.

In Los Angeles, Lisa Sallaj, a Muslim woman, was suddenly affronted by a man while walking her dog on April 8. The stranger kicked her dog and yelled racial slurs at her. Sallaj later told NBC4 that she believed she was targeted for being a Muslim woman and wearing a hijab.

These events appear to continue a recent thread of hate crimes happening around the nation. 

The state of racism in Oak Park

Despite Oak Park’s prestige and substantial efforts on the part of the community to eradicate racism, such racially motivated incidents still occur.

The most recent occurrence in which several individuals anonymously left anti-Semitic notes on the doors of homes in Oak Park has also sparked question as to whether this was an isolated incident, or if racism remains present among students on Oak Park’s campus.

However, junior and peer counselor Ash Bhasin said that she believes the majority of racism in Oak Park is limited to joking and teasing.

“I think most people would admit that there’s a lot of joking and playful teasing that goes on that does have a basis [in] race or ethnicity,” Bhasin said.

This is a school campus. This is a place that is supposed to be free of any hint, of any notion of discrimination.”

— Kevin Buchanan

Oak Park High School has attempted to decrease racism in the community by promoting a “No Place for Hate” mentality through school-wide assemblies, programs such as Safe School Ambassadors and Peer Counseling and an emphasis on the acceptance of diversity. However, international and local occurrences in which racism is practiced can challenge individuals to take note of what happens on campus, according to Bhasin.

“I don’t think I’ve really ever seen people discriminating against others in school or in the community,” Bhasin said. “However, we do have some bias and stereotyping that goes on.”

Senior and peer counselor Rose Saban agreed that while racism doesn’t seem to be prevalent at Oak Park, at times, stereotyping can be found.

“I mostly hear [stereotyping] through jokes, like casual here and there,” Saban said.

Principal Kevin Buchanan said that racism, whether it be stereotyping or hate speech, is detrimental to having a healthy, safe school.

“This is a school campus. This is a place that is supposed to be free of any hint, of any notion of discrimination,” Buchanan said. “Because that could make people feel like this is not a safe place. And this is supposed to be a safe place.”

However, according to Buchanan, students may navigate racism differently when they’re off campus.

“I think our kids are smart enough to understand that [for example] there is no such thing as a bomb joke at an airport. The way we say it is, there’s no such thing as a racist joke at a school. What may be okay on the outside is not okay here,” Buchanan said.

I think in our everyday conversations, it’s pretty evident that we have a lot of stereotyping going on.”

— Ash Bhasin

Some students mentioned the presence of social media and its impact toward creating or limiting prejudiced statements.

“I don’t really personally see a lot of [racism] portrayed on social media like it is often stressed, but I think in our everyday conversations, it’s pretty evident that we have a lot of stereotyping going on,” Bhasin said. “I think it’s really important to think about the impact that it can have because it can hurt people, and hate does tend to be spurred by bias.” 

According to Buchanan, racism’s impact plays a negative role in Oak Park’s established safe space.

“Singling people out because they belong to a certain group, whether it be for a religion or an ethnicity, because that could make people feel that this is not a safe place, and this is supposed to be a safe learning environment,” Buchanan said. “So what we try to do here is explain to kids that what may be funny on the outside, is not okay here. . . and we address it in a way that is [angled] towards education.”

Buchanan said that even comments pointed toward race or religion can harm the school’s safe, welcoming environment.

The [receiving] person almost always plays it off. [They] don’t want other people to know that the comment may have hurt them.”

— Kevin Buchanan

“The [receiving] person almost always plays it off. [They] don’t want other people to know that the comment may have hurt them … so oftentimes the joke is made … [they] play it off, but then they go home … and they think, oh, so it’s okay to make jokes about me now,” Buchanan said. “It’s okay to make jokes about religion, and that is definitely a detrimental thing, especially in a school because it tends to shut people down. And this is supposed to be a place where you can open up … that kind of climate inhibits people’s abilities to be themselves, learn about who they are and express themselves freely.”

According to Bhasin, due to the rapidly spreading consciousness of bias throughout campuses, racism can be interpreted differently by each student.

“Racism is a very specific word,” Bhasin said, “and it’s important to remember what exactly that entails.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “racism is the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics.”

Buchanan said he hopes that students will stray away from jokes that focus on these sensitive topics.

“There’s a lot of things to joke about. You don’t have to use someone’s race or religion or disability . . .  make fun of the Lakers, or Dodgers. Or even Trump,” Buchanan said, joking.

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