Yesterday a man was violently removed from a United Airlines flight in the US. The video is deeply unsettling to watch. The man is dehumanized and removed as if his presence on the plane was unwanted cargo. In a breathtaking case of “the pedagogy of cruelty”, the attacks on the victim’s character have already began.
In another incident, this past weekend, an undocumented man from Nigeria was boarded on a KLM flight. The man is seen handcuffed and, again, like in the United Airlines incident, treated as an object placed on a seat. In the video, posted on Facebook but reported by both Nigerian and Dutch media , passengers are seen protesting and demanding the man is freed. Several passengers are seen filming.
Back in August 2016, I wrote about the pedagogy of cruelty . I said that “capitalism depends on a strategy of habitual cruelty for the purpose of numbing us to its effects. The current paradigm of exploitation requires a wide spectrum of vulnerability of human life”. With that in mind, I’d like to point to a few moments in the video taken by KLM passengers , specifically how both the State (in the form of the Military police carrying the undocumented migrant) and the airline employees, conflate to execute the violence. It’s also worth pointing out that both the military police and the airline employees are white while both the passengers protesting and the undocumented person are Black. Around the 4:30 mark, a white woman employee of KLM starts demanding that one of the protesters sits down. She then deploys one of the oldest tropes to justify violence: “the children [on board] are afraid”. She keeps insisting, the protestations need to stop because “they frighten the children”. And here I cannot help thinking of the way a white woman uses this excuse to not only allow the State violence to happen but to, by adjacency, invoke “the angry Black man” trope. When the protester points out that he is afraid as well, a white military policeman joins the white woman to demand “order”. It is then that the protester points out that the actions of the white police woman participating in the violence also frighten the children but nobody is addressing that fear which is instead normalized. Moreover, when the protesters say “You cannot send him back [to Nigeria]. We are afraid of the consequences of what will happen to this guy once you take him off the plane. We are filming to send this to the news”, it is again the white woman working for KLM who insists “he will be OK”, as if there was anything remotely OK with the whole situation.
It is worth watching this video especially to contextualize how the State acts with the absolute complicity and participation of the airline employees as part of this “pedagogy of cruelty” I mentioned above. Without the willful participation of the airline, both in making their flights available and in the form of employee complicity, this violence would not be possible. This is also something to analyze as part of the phenomenon of white women who vote for right wing and populist candidates running on platforms that promise more of this violence across the board.
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