The Truth about the United Incident

Picture Description: A screenshot of a tweet from McNeil @Reflog_18 stating "United Airlines is now pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights- in addition to United First and Economy Plus we introduce..." Underneath is a seating layout of a 24 row plane, with rows 12-24 reserved for Fight club. 

Picture Description: A screenshot of a tweet from McNeil @Reflog_18 stating "United Airlines is now pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights- in addition to United First and Economy Plus we introduce..." Underneath is a seating layout of a 24 row plane, with rows 12-24 reserved for Fight club. 

At the time of writing this, United had lost about a billion dollars due to the controversial dragging of an individual off of a plane. Clearly, the internet and individuals all over the world are outraged. Within just a few days of the incident, there have been memes, commercials, and so much more making fun of United on an ample number of platforms.

Unfortunately, as usual, the internet did not get it right. Like with many instances, individuals focused on the hot topic of the week that is an easily shareable conversation, and ignored the systemic problems that are in place. Instead of rooting out the cause of this situation, and challenging ourselves to solve the problem, we're focusing on the thing that allows us to continue deflecting from this situation

This is neither the first nor the last time this has or will happen. We, The People, focus on single incidents, view them as isolated, make the biggest deal out of them, ignore the relevant conversations we need to be having, and passively allow the problems to be brushed deep beneath the surface. 

I was happy to see a few conversations start around police brutality. This is a huge step in the right direction, but this is still rare to see - and you need the right individuals in your life to see such a thing. The reality is that we still don't care about police brutality, disability rights, religious rights, or any other kinds of rights. 

The reality is that United, as with most airlines, have done far worse in the past. This is not the first or last time someone will be dragged off of an airplane. You will continue having individuals with disabilities suffer under an Ableist system that the public continues to ignore. Individuals that look Muslim will continue to be thrown off of planes, and held for hours on end as they're interrogated for doing things as simple as doing math on planes. 

Sassy Outwater, who recently shared her accessibility experience with Life in My Days, said it far better than I ever can. Mistreatment of individuals with disabilities has always been there. 

I worked in the airline industry to put myself through college. And one of the things I was trained to handle was disability complaints. CRO. Complaint resolutions officials, are mandated at airports and must be made available when passengers ask for them. Yesterday’s United incident was the worst exhibition I’ve seen in years as to how to treat another human being on an aircraft.... sadly, I can’t say that’s true. I have friends who fly regularly and must get out of their wheelchairs at the gate, and then watch ground crews carelessly mishandle, abuse, break or dismantle a power chair, like it’s a cheap toy. I’ve had passengers in wheelchairs I’ve read about or talked to who were left stranded in jetways, who could not get to a bathroom in time, who had to crawl to find assistance. Guide Dog handlers have been asked to leave the aircraft. But those situations go underreported because they are disability-related. So if you think this is a one-off or United has just had a string of bad luck headlines lately? They’ve been there for years, go read the Department of Transportation reports about carriage of disabled passengers. And let’s just be clear, swearing to never fly United again? That rule where they could kick a passenger off has always been there in the carriage contract if you bother to read the fine print, it’s nothing new. What was new about yesterday was the escalation of the situation to violence and police brutality. I’m going to give you one good guess as to why it escalated... hint: foreign? Color of skin? Nationality? Someone defying perceived authority for whatever reason??? That was not a simple airline incident... that carriage contract has read that way for decades. There’s nothing new there. What is new is the rage people who want authority feel entitled to bring into their jobs nowadays. What’s new is this aggressive authority over marginalized groups... oh... nope. Wait, that’s not even new! It’s been happening for centuries! We just used to think it was okay, and then there were laws that told us it wasn’t... and now we all have cell phones at the ready and Twitter to launch our discoveries into space so others can share in our indignation and finally change this atrocious behavior. But what isn’t cool is to pretend to be horrified by something new. It isn’t new. It’s just in your face now. Next time you’re sitting pretty on your plane, look down. Do you see a power wheelchair being thrown casually and with utter lack of respect for expensive quality-of-life assistive medical technology under the aircraft? Or have you seen a dog guide waiting at the gate, or a black or brown passenger being harassed by the airline crew? It’s common. What isn’t common is people’s willingness to point it out and get the world involved... and that does need to be more common. That was the only good thing that happened yesterday. This time, United can’t pretend it away. Though they are trying mightily.
— Sassy Outwater

The reality is that we have chosen to hold onto a single incident and ignore the rest. This is problematic, as we're continuing to uphold the systems that made this possible in the first place. What about the Black Woman that was dragged out of the Delta airplane just a few months ago as the other passengers were laughing? These things are not as uncommon as we'd like to think. 

Also, the hypocricy in some of the other airlines is disturbing. I have flown with over twenty airlines to almost every region of the world, and in the end of the day, most airlines are the same. They are White Supremacist, Patriarchal, and Ableist. 

It's great that we have drawn a line when it comes to discrimination for certain individuals, but unfortunately we are still ignoring the atrocities that happen on a daily basis in a systemically oppressive machine. If we weren't ignoring them, then United would not be the only Airline losing a billion dollars right now. We'd be discussing Disability Rights, Religious Rights, and Ignored Police Brutality for People of Color, and creating movements to shut the system down not transfer money from United to all the other Airlines.

So today I ask, where were we when they came for individuals for disabilities, for people of color, for Muslims? Where are we now? Because despite the outrage I still don't see allies to people with my intersectionality: Brown, Muslim, Foreign, and living with Mental Illness. All this is just scratching the surface of the wealth of forms of oppression available to you in the air. 

 This is just an example of selective outrage, not universal outrage over injustice, there is a difference. 

So what can you do now? Here are a few conversations you can start having, as you're sharing the United content: 

  1. Speak about this incident systemically, and not as a single incident. 
  2. Speak out about the selective outrage this has received compared to other incidents. 
  3. Discuss the systems of oppression that allowed this and other forms of injustice to happen. 

In the end, there's nothing wrong with sharing this United incident, but we must be intentional in making real change and that requires addressing the true root cause, something we're not doing yet. 

Interested in joining the Life in my Days community? Check out our Belong page and subscribe to our newsletter below. 

Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days, Inc. He is the co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Novelist. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitterinstagram or facebook

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