The United Airlines debacle has become the incident that launched a million tweets -- and understandably so. In the age of cellphone videos, the violence that has always lurked under the radar in American society has become more visible, more palpable, more capable of stirring emotions. I know that some folks out there see the video of cops dragging Kentucky physician David Dao off the flight and say...so what? The airline was following the rules for what to do when there's more passengers than seats.
Correct, but sometimes the rules are written by the powerful -- like the post-merger supersized monopolistic airlines -- to validate social injustice. More importantly, I think the incident ratified what a lot of people -- increasingly, even fairly privileged professional types -- feel in their bones, that American corporations are just too powerful.
I'm too wrapped up on a couple of other projects for full-service blogging/column-writing/whatever it is that I do here -- but I did want to point people to two pieces that did a good job summing it all up. One came, of all places, from Deadspin, and it's called "The Corporation Does Not Always Have to Win":
But the point is: You are not the corporation. You are the human. It is okay for the corporation to lose a small portion of what it has in terrifying overabundance (money, time, efficiency) in order to preserve what a human has that cannot ever be replaced (dignity, humanity, conscience, life). It is okay for you to prioritize your affinity with your fellow humans over your subservience to the corporation, and to imagine and broker outcomes based on this ordering of things. It is okay for the corporation to lose. It will return to its work of churning the living world into dead sand presently.
Don’t mistake me. There are a lot of other things you can take away from this sorry event. There is the increased militarization of American life, with authorities reacting to common disputes in increasingly aggressive ways. There is a positive lesson, too, in that ordinary Americans have access to more potential publicity — and, hopefully, recourse — than ever before, courtesy of social media. Finally, there is a narrative of privilege at play. More than a few pointed out this contretemps would likely not have received as much attention if the unwilling passenger were poor or African-American. Others noted that the doctor, who is Asian-American, might have been treated differently by officers or airline staff if he were white.
But this isn’t an either-or situation. Yes, we can tell people who perceive themselves as privileged to get used to the second-class treatment those poorer than them have been receiving for a long time. But it seems like a better bet, both ethically and for the sake of our futures, to improve conditions for all.
It took several tries (shades of Sean Spicer, huh?) and a plunging stock price but United's CEO finally issued a full-blown apology this afternoon. But one apology can't undo the power imbalances that have been a couple of generations in the making. Tomorrow, I'll be back to talk about one of those imbalances right here in Philadelphia.