Give Us Some Space

by Kaila Philo

On April 9th, 2017, United Express Flight 3411 was declared overbooked. Management offered as much as $800 to any passenger willing to give up their seat, but alas, there were no takers, and so they chose a handful of passengers to leave the flight. When the fourth chosen, a doctor named David Dao, refused to comply, O’Hare International Airport policemen took it upon themselves to forcibly remove him. What followed was documented on several iPhones: The officers pulled Dao out of his seat, slammed his face on an armrest, and then dragged him by his arms through the length of the plane, as unmoving passengers watched in shock. At one point he manages to escape the violence and runs towards the other side of the plane, and it is here where we realize that there’s crimson blood streaming from his lips.

Matt Bruenig published “Capitalism is Violence” through Jacobin soon after, in which he argues that this incident is nothing more than a brief aberration from the looming (but unrealized) threat of violence that keeps capitalism pumping strong. There is always brutality behind enforced capitalist institutions, he says, or else the system would fall as more realize that there should be nothing preventing a poor family from getting a bag of apples from their local grocery store. “Instead of soothing ourselves with the idea that this particular application of violence was illegitimate or extraordinary, we should instead confront it head on as a necessary feature of capitalist society.” Frankly it’s a sentiment that I agree with, seeing as the rules of capitalism can’t be enforced without violence. Don’t steal or we’ll lock you up for two-or-so years of unsupervised brutality.

As I read up on the United story I found myself wondering why the first three passengers left the plane. They didn’t volunteer when the managers tried soliciting some, and one must assume they don’t have Bruenig’s understanding of capitalist ethics, so in their minds, in most of our minds, there sits some righteous indignation. We bought the tickets, so why should we have to leave? In that case, why comply when you’re kicked off?

Reece Jones expands upon Bruenig’s argument in Violent Borders—or, rather, Jones serves as a precedent to Bruenig’s since the book came first, I don’t know—he argues the same in reference to geographical restrictions: “When passive expressions of power such as walls, borders, or property laws fail, physical violence is often the only means left to prevent undesired movement.”

The world has been carved into jagged, disparate slices like a cake and those with the largest pieces will put a fork through your hand if you try to grab a bite. Jones’s statement can be applied to any enclosure of space, global or proxemic, and we’re always tasked with trying to figure out which spaces are ours, when, and for how long. However, some people are granted more space and more time in that space than others based on whether the ultimate owner wants them there, and unsurprisingly enough this lends itself to those in power as a nifty apparatus through which one may exercise prejudice.

The world has been carved into jagged, disparate slices like a cake and those with the largest pieces will put a fork through your hand if you try to grab a bite.

At times 2017 feels like a year of displacement. Dao’s case is only a microcosm of what I mean by this, and a lucky one at that considering he’s in the position to sue. Each day more undocumented immigrants are being dragged across the country back to their respective motherlands, and refugees from “Muslim” countries are being turned away at America’s borders, all in order to “protect our own.” The own remains an ambiguous relic tossed around at the whims of your local jingoist. American? In that case, what constitutes an American? Documentation, undying allegiance, or both?

Our own is, at once, a rhetorical bomb aimed at the others, destroying nothing but the psychic links that make us human. “I am human, but they’re something else”; “We’re all human, but I’m the right kind of human.” These are the divisors that justifies the violence that reinforces the borders that destroy free movement that lead to an unassuming doctor being dragged out of a flight he paid full price for.

Those on the margins of our own are left perpetually stranded out into nothing; they are, too often, bereft or stricken with cases of ennui that can’t manifest itself through art because nobody wants to fund it. The margins aren’t drawn terra firma, they’re somewhere in the deep, rendering it difficult to gain steady footing others are graced with. These margins are hard to spot so they’re policed by warships; they’re placed out to sea because it looks like freedom but becomes a prison as soon as you step off the boat (provided you’ve been granted one.) What good is it claiming that if we’re lost, we should simply depend on the devices God gave us, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and build, when you’re lost at sea?

While we do not know if the officers acted so brutally towards Dao because he is a Person of Color, the issue at hand is who is granted space and how it’s policed. Dao simply should not have been dragged off the plane against his will, nor should the preceding passengers feel forced to give up their seats in the first place. Those who wish to emigrate to the United States shouldn’t be shipped off to places they no longer know and those seeking refuge shouldn’t be forced back into the barbarity of war. And, most importantly, those on the margins shouldn’t be confronted with hate, not at any level, because we’re already drowning.

Provide humans the space they desire, or honor the agreements of space that have been given. At least grant us that much.


Kaila Philo - Kaila is a writer based in Baltimore, where she studies English literature and works in marketing. She has been published in Mask Magazine, ARTS.BLACK, and The Millions, among others. Philo hopes to avoid being a starving artist and to flourish as a novelist and intellectual.