I'm black and I'm not avoiding American Airlines

NAACP warns black passengers about airline
NAACP warns black passengers about airline

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Story highlights

  • Issac Bailey: I'm black but don't plan to avoid American Airlines, despite the travel advisory the NAACP released about possible discrimination
  • Blacks face too many dire issues -- like white supremacy and police violence -- to get sidetracked by possible misunderstandings on planes

Issac Bailey is an interim member of The Charlotte Observer editorial board and the James K. Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)I am a black man, but the next time I fly, I don't plan to avoid American Airlines, despite the travel advisory the NAACP released this week about possible discrimination against black people by that airline.

Issac Bailey
It's hard to be alarmed by the advisory, given the paucity of evidence the revered civil rights organization has so far presented -- and because we are living in volatile times during which profound questions about racial and other forms of inequality are popping up everywhere.
The advisory seems trivial by comparison. During times like these, there's only so much moral bandwidth available to highlight and combat wrongs where we can prove them.
    For example:
    -- Buzzfeed recently reported in an exhaustive news article that former White House senior adviser, Steve Bannon -- who remains a prominent figure trying to reshape the Republican Party -- oversaw a media outlet that, the article alleges based on a cache of emails from Brietbart, frequently used white supremacists to write and shape stories read by millions.
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    -- Our President not too long ago equated those fighting racial bigotry with white supremacists, some of whom he apparently believes are fine and decent people.
    -- Nikole Hannah-Jones, a recent recipient of a MacArthur "genius" award, has shown us how racial segregation in our schools is the worst it's been in my lifetime, and that resegregation is at the heart of academic achievement gaps.
    -- And Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed by the National Football League for daring to raise awareness about injustice and police misconduct, even as news of questionable police shootings and actions continues to mount.
    All this is happening as Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reigniting the drug war and pulling back on oversight of police departments, and as the FBI has created the term "black identity extremists."
    This list is woefully incomplete because it is exhausting even trying to remember all the alarm bells going off, seemingly daily. Did I mention that some white Trump supporters in Houston were grateful for the help they received in the aftermath of a major hurricane, but didn't want their brown-skinned American counterparts in Puerto Rico to be treated similarly? Or that American troops believe white nationalism is a growing national security threat?
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    American Airlines CEO Doug Parker took a wise approach to the advisory during a third-quarter earnings conference call Thursday. He said he was disappointed in it but also conceded that every corporation, no matter how conscientious, must take the issue of diversity and potential discrimination seriously, which is why, he said, he wants to speak to the civil rights group.
    I reached out to the NAACP to see if there was a compelling reason for the advisory I hadn't thought of, or if they had more evidence of a broader pattern of discrimination, but I didn't hear back.
    In its statement, the group says it has spent months monitoring disturbing incidents on American Airlines flights, including one in which the group says a black man was removed from a plane "merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers," and one in which a black woman was moved to coach from first-class, even though her white companion was allowed to remain upfront.
    The group's advisory says additionally that a black woman was removed for complaining to a gate agent about an unexpected seat assignment change, and an "African-American woman and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York City when the woman (incidentally a Harvard Law School student) asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark."
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    If true, those passengers need to be compensated. But even if they happened, those incidents don't rise to the level of having the country's preeminent civil rights organization issuing a national warning to black people.
    There are too many pressing issues -- of which the NAACP is well aware and working to rectify, including pushing back against harmful changes involving fair-market rent by the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- to allow ourselves to get sidetracked by what might amount to a handful of misunderstandings on airplanes.