Editor’s Note: Ranier Maningding is a copywriter and mastermind behind the social justice page “The Love Life of an Asian Guy“. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely his own.
There’s a difference between power and privilege.
When you’re a kid, your parents have the power to give you privileges. The privilege to watch cartoons before the school bus arrives, eat chocolate ice cream after dinner, or earn an allowance of $10 after you’ve raked the leaves in the front yard.
But privilege, unlike power, is temporary. If you piss off your parents, they can exercise their power to take those privileges away. The same applies to social privileges, such as the privileges afforded to Asian-Americans via the Model Minority Myth.
If Asians fail to align with model minority expectations — if we speak up against injustice, expose discrimination in the workplace, or exist in a country at war with an Asian dictator — our privileges can be taken away.
When you look at the case surrounding Dr. David Dao, the Asian-American man assaulted on United Airlines 3411, you’re looking at the powers of Capitalism and white supremacy stripping away the his razor thin layer of protection granted by model minority privileges.
In other words: David Dao was treated just like every other non-Asian, person of color in this country. David, and the Asian-American community watching this story, have received their ethnic wake-up call.
Those Darn “Greedy, Snobby” Asians!
In a recent statement shared by United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, Chicago Police Department called Dr. Dao a “disruptive and belligerent” person, even though video evidence proves otherwise. But this is one of the oldest tricks in the book levied against people of color. They do that shit to Black and Brown people all the time. It’s a cheap tactic that paints people of color as irrational, as if we can’t control our emotions so law enforcement and those in (white) power must do it themselves.
In his book “Systema Naturae“ (1767), Swedish physician Carl Linnaeus developed a guide on the five “varieties,”aka, races, of human species. This guide stated that different races were genetically predisposed to certain behavioral traits. Black people (labeled Africanus) were stereotyped as sexually promiscuous, sly, and careless while Asians (Asiaticus) were painted as snobby, greedy, and severe.
When you look at the criticisms against David Dao, many argue that Dao was acting out of an inflated sense of entitlement, as if David Dao is nothing but a greedy, selfish Asian man who was too self-centered to give up his seat, and too snobby to accept United Airlines’ $800 offer to exit the plane.
Had Dr. David Dao been a white man named Dr. David Dole, I doubt we’d depict him as snobby or greedy. Instead, we’d follow Carl Linnaeus’ guide on white “Europeanus” people (said to be “gentle” and “regulated by customs”) and say that David Dole was acting out of bravery.
When In Doubt, Bring Up Their Irrelevent Criminal History
This latest stunt, however, is a classic technique known as “dig up the irrelevent criminal history of your victim so people will stop sympathizing with them.” Aided by TMZ (a celebrity gossip publication with more false reports than super saiyan Sean Spicer) and Courier-Journal, Dr. David Dao’s alleged criminal history has been released.
According to these reports, David Dao solicited sex in exchange for drugs, made fraudulent prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycontin and Percocet, and had his medical license suspended. These claims of malpractice, however, are associated with Dr. David Anh Duy Dao, not Dr. David Thanh Duc Dao, two completely different Asian-American men.
Whether this is true or not, the question still stands: Who gives a fuck?
This is an all too familiar tune for Black and Brown America. When Alton Sterling, a Black man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was murdered by police in 2016, news outlets also pulled his criminal record. Allegations that Sterling was an ex-gang member who obtained illegal firearms minimized his status as a victim of police brutality, convincing viewers that Alton, not the police, was the “true” criminal.
One of the most famous examples of defaming a victim of police brutality happened after the murder of Michael Brown in 2014. Accusations that Brown was a gang member became a central talking point used to justify his murder.
“He’s a thug and I’m just glad he’s off the streets” became a mantra of the far-right. And now, “he’s an illegitimate doctor who likes gay sex” is being used to discredit Dr. Dao.
Look, I’m not trying to compare the mistreatment of Dr. Dao with the death of Mike Brown and Alton Sterling. The assault on Dr. Dao is a rare event for the Asian-American community, and a common occurrence if you’re Black or Brown. The two are not the same and Dr. Dao is still alive. He’s traumatized, but alive.
What I am saying is that the protections offered by the model minority myth are paper thin. They exist only until white and Capitalist powers say so. When white supremacy needs us to be number crunching nerds and docile doctors, they’ll depict us that way in movies and TV shows. But if Asians say one thing out of line, if we stand in the way of a corporation making its money, if we collide with the narrative of “Blue Lives Matter” and law enforcement, then we’re made out like “varieties” pulled from the pages of “Systema Natura”.
The model minority myth is an empty shell of protection. Though we can align with it and feel closer to white power, we will always be three rungs below on a temporary platform of Asian privilege. We may hover over Black and Brown people, feel empowered because we’re granted more privileges, and feel connected to the virtues of racist white America, but, as we’ve seen in the video of Dr. Dao, a simple “No, I will not give up my seat” and SWIPE!
Those comfy Asian privileges will be taken away. No longer will we be seen as the model minority, but a regular, thieving, lying, greedy, snobby, and unwelcome ethnic minority.
Welcome to Black and Brown America, my fellow Asians.