Chin: Even Our Bodies

Allowing violations of minoritarian bodies ultimately harms everyone.

by Clara Chin | 5/2/17 12:20am

In the age of social media and of President Donald Trump’s administration, our bodies are out of our hands. Trump has already signed legislation intended to defund Planned Parenthood and other services providing abortions, placing self choice in the hands of the government. Police forces continue to brutalize communities, especially those of African-American men.

The public finds out about these governmental violations of bodily privacy through what might also be considered breaches of privacy. Snippets of a video recording of a private conversation was used as evidence that Planned Parenthood intends to profit by collecting fetal tissue from abortions, though the full video indicates otherwise. Viral videos of police brutality, such as the violence toward Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, became the mode of public information that raised this issue on the public agenda. Institutions make laws or act in ways that take control over bodies, particularly minoritarian bodies as used by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to encompass racial minorities and women who have typically been treated as non-normative. Regardless of people’s intentions in sharing them, videos make these bodies no longer private but public spectacle.

This brutality is nothing new. The policing of bodies, particularly non-white bodies, permeates United States history, from the internment of Japanese-Americans to the arrests of civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Body policing in the digital age of Trump simply follows this tradition. The instances of police brutality and the defunding of Planned Parenthood are clear examples that minority bodies are not liberated — Planned Parenthood is a policy issue, and police brutality has been statistically proven. But in addition to considering the overt forms of body policing, it is also important to consider how the aftermath of government violence is often just as violating as the instance itself. Similar to the way that Trump’s often explicit, overt racism makes permissible implicit, microaggressive racism, subtle violation of private space is obscured by more obvious issues of body policing when in fact the two are inextricably entangled.

The recent United Express Flight 3411 incident concerning Chinese-Vietnamese passenger David Dao highlights the importance of evaluating the aftermath of instances of body policing, including both the institutional response and the public response. Because the flight was overbooked, United staff allegedly randomly chose Dao, a passenger and doctor, to leave his seat. After he declined to give up his seat because he had patients waiting to see him, United staff physically dragged him off the plane. As a result, he suffered a broken nose and a concussion.

Dao’s issue raises the question of privacy for all Americans. The American public often thinks of institutional brutality as an atrocity that happens primarily to African Americans; because many non-black people conceive of police brutality as an issue that does not concern them, their complacency has resulted in other brutalized bodies and breaches of policy. While it is sad that we often ignore issues until they directly concern us, the beating of Dao emphasizes that enabling the negative treatment of one minority harms others down the line.

What happened to Dao reveals a type of racism that, because of its private and implicit nature, is difficult to combat. Because race did not enter the discussion during the event itself, it may be easy to cite it as a mere instance of institutional misconduct. The first question of race that Dao’s situation raises is the disruption of the notion of Asian docility. CNN writes that, according to an officer who was part of the incident, Dao aggressively told officers “I’m not getting off … I’m not leaving this flight that I paid money for. I don’t care if I get arrested.” The dialogue suggests that Dao is simply stating his rights, yet the report noted Dao’s tone as aggressive. Why is it that a claim to rights is considered aggressive? This corresponds with the all-too-familiar “model minority” narrative about Asian-Americans, who are often praised for their complicity with the government, especially in comparison to other people of color, who supposedly stir the pot too much.

We may never know for sure whether Dao was chosen, subconsciously or consciously, because of the unverbalized assumption that he would have silently accepted his fate. That being said, the US Department of Transportation notes that “airlines set their own ‘boarding priorities’ — the order in which they will bump different categories of passengers in an oversale situation.” This essentially allows United to handpick passengers they believe are most likely to comply. Because Dao did not provide the expected complicity, he was treated as many other minoritarians are — as if basic rights are too much to ask for. The perception that demanding personal rights is aggressive should be concerning not only to Asian Americans, but to everyone.

A Google search of “David Dao” will result in articles about his past mixed into those about the incident with United. Even after the privacy of Dao’s body was violated, the internet seemed to have no problem with infiltrating another sort of privacy. This suggests that Dao’s past wrongdoings somehow justify the brutalizing of his body, even though the United staff would have had no way of knowing these wrongdoings prior to their decision to remove him from the plane.

Furthermore, the video of Dao being dragged off the plane went viral. On the one hand, the video showed the American public what happened to Dao in a more direct manner, which helped create anger on Dao’s behalf. Without it, Dao may not have received a settlement, nor would United have necessarily made the decision to change its flight policy. But a settlement, no matter the monetary benefit, cannot erase violence, and a change in flight policy can only do so much to change people’s attitudes. Racial profiling will continue to occur in other ways, such as when the Transportation Secretary Administration “randomly” selects an inordinate amount of Middle Eastern people for security checks. Plus, the accessibility of the video of David Dao raises questions about the way the public receives information. A New York Times article collected the comments of readers in response to the incident involving Dao, as if the public could come up with some sort of verdict.

Some go as far as to compare Dao to Rosa Parks. This is also a fraught comparison. While Dao was not actively protesting centuries of racism in his refusal to leave, the brutalizing of his body demonstrates the necessity of interracial and intersectional solidarity to preserve the privacy of all bodies. Whereas Asian Americans have been used in the past as an example to force other minorities to keep their heads down, the brutality toward David Dao exemplifies that no bodies are safe. Because race plays a role in the way the media and the public analyze situations, United’s flight policy benefits both minorities and white Americans. Considering violations of privacy towards minoritarian communities in the United States ultimately benefit everyone.