Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People, delves into the controversy surrounding Dr. David Dao’s forced removal from a United Airlines flight for the Los Angeles Review of Books blog, pinpointing the age-based factors that led to his maltreatment:
Dr. Dao is 69 and from Vietnam. Both ageism and racism, I suggest, played a role in the quick decisions of the aviation security personnel as to how much force to use against him when he refused to leave. Dao is not just old, not just “Asian,” but “old Asian,” read as “weak, passive, handles without fuss.” Not likely to be strong and obstreperous, like a husky football player. When Dao refused to leave the fully-booked plane to give his place and his wife’s to airline personnel, explaining that he was a doctor, police manhandled him, crashing his face against an arm-rest. One dragged him down the aisle by the arms.
Stereotypes may be “compound” (as Carrie Andreoletti and her colleagues call them, in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development 81). Like many complex or intersectional biases, they are less well studied and often disregarded. In this case, Dao’s appearance of vulnerability was doubled, or perhaps, given that he was wearing glasses, trebled. This might have stopped ordinary decent people from touching him with intent to dominate, but security men are trained differently. Indeed, his triple vulnerabilities may have led the police to expect that he would let himself be led away.