Attorneys Thomas Demetrio and Stephen Golan hold a press conference with Crystal Dao Pepper, the daughter of Dr. David Dao, on April 13, 2017 in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"Punk rock" entered our lexicon a couple decades ago as an adjective attached to things with no obvious connection to punk rock music. Instead, that phrase is used as a stand-in for a certain fuck-deprived, anti-establishment, devil-may-care ethos associated with it. And it could be used to modify anything — a person's attitude, eating milk-less cereal for dinner, an aggressively bemused housecat, etc — without much context because the context is etched into the expression. If you were to say "That barista is totally punk rock" to the person behind you in line at Crazy Mocha this morning, it would imply, without exposition, that the barista must somehow be a bad-ass motherfucking barista.

Blackness doesn't quite work the same way. While anyone can be punk rock, not everyone can be Black. (Hi Rachel!) There are just certain cultural and physiological and experience-based non-negotiables necessary for authentic Blackness that'll always prevent it from being adopted. (Attempts of adoption will continue, however. But like potato salad made with kale, they're intrinsically built to fail.)


Anyone can, however, have some Black-ass shit happen to them. And David Dao, the doctor recently dragged off of a United Airlines flight, wasn't quite a nigga for a day, but was definitely treated like one. And then United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz added to the niggafication of this ordeal by describing the doctor as "disruptive and belligerent" and apologized for having to inconvenience the other passengers. (Please re-read those last eight words.) After reading that statement, I was immediately reminded of Henry Davis, the man who was beaten by Ferguson police and then charged with property damage because he bled on their uniforms. Which is just one of countless examples of something like that happening to a Black person; where pain is inflicted on us, and our natural and justifiable response to that pain is treated as some sort of burden and agitation. We're the insensitive and violent ones for merely reacting to violence; for getting hit and saying "Oww. That hurt. Please stop."

In America, this particular type of trauma-dependent gaslighting a uniquely Black phenomenon that synopsizes much of our experience here. But, as the soon-to-be-rich-as-the-fuck Dao learned, it actually happening isn't unique to Black people.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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