Editorial: Racism rears its ugly head in SF

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022
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San Francisco school board member Ann Hsu is facing calls to resign. Photo: Courtesy Twitter
San Francisco school board member Ann Hsu is facing calls to resign. Photo: Courtesy Twitter

New San Francisco school board member Ann Hsu is facing calls to resign after she made racist comments in a candidate questionnaire from the SF Parent Action group. In it, she cited "unstable family environments" and "lack of parental encouragement to focus on learning" as the biggest challenges in educating Black and Brown students. While Hsu has apologized for the statements, that has done little to quell the chorus of those who want her to resign and not seek election in November. Hsu was one of three women tapped by Mayor London Breed to replace the three commissioners ousted in the school board recall in February. Many will remember that former commissioner Alison Collins was recalled due, in part, to racist tweets she posted before being elected to the school board. In that case, Collins, who is Black, attacked Asian Americans. So here we are again with a school board member who just doesn't get it and feels comfortable employing broad and false racial tropes against students, thus calling into question her ability to conduct her work fairly and without bias.

The Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic clubs have called on Hsu to step down, as have gay BART board member and former supervisor Bevan Dufty, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton of District 10, and United Educators of San Francisco's executive board. The local chapter of the NAACP stated July 25 that Hsu should resign. The San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club tweeted that Hsu didn't even bother to reach out to members after her racist comments became public. "Hsu herself said she is 'committed to listening, learning and growing as a person,'" the club tweeted. "Then why did she ignore the Latino community on outreach?" Breed has stood by her pick, but it's unclear how long she will be able to do that, given the mounting pressure for Hsu to step aside.

We, too, think Hsu should resign. Her comments are inexcusable for a public official. That they came as the school board is working to get past all its previous controversies and concentrate on student progress is even worse. The school board just held a workshop July 17 at which the commissioners and new superintendent Matt Wayne said that the district would be focusing on its vision, values, goals, and guardrails, as well as a community engagement plan. It would seem that Hsu's comments are a distraction that the San Francisco Unified School District doesn't need. The school district's working vision statement, which was developed at the workshop and is supposed to be long-term and aspirational, is "All SFUSD students will graduate as independent thinkers with a sense of agency who have mastered academic and creative skills to lead productive lives and contribute to our community." The values student-centered, collective, integrity, and equity rose to the top, stated an announcement on the workshop from Wayne and school board President Jenny Lam. Guardrails are needed, the two stated, to ensure the community's values aren't violated while goals are pursued. They prevent the superintendent from violating the community's values to achieve a goal, the announcement stated.

In the Hsu matter, one needs to ask whether her statements on the candidate questionnaire go against the vision and values that the board itself developed at this workshop. We think they do. They also are in conflict with the board's own commitment to improve governance practices, as outlined in a June 30 news release (before Hsu's comments became public). We don't see how Hsu can be an effective member of the school board. When the Collins flap occurred, she was removed from all committees. We would call for that in this case but the current school board in June decided to pause its committees as part of improving its governance. Those matters will now be considered by the board as a whole, resulting in increased transparency, the release stated.

If Hsu won't resign, we urge the two other appointees, Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward, to distance themselves from her as they campaign ahead of the November election. They need to publicly disavow Hsu's comments and explain why they deserve to continue serving on the school board. We also think Breed needs to more forcefully condemn Hsu's comments beyond just stating they were "wrong and hurtful." Breed must know that an achievement gap exists in the city's public schools and that Black and Brown students have lower outcomes than white and Asian students. It's not acceptable that someone who has espoused racist stereotypes like Hsu has should remain on the board.

A screenshot of one of the racist flyers posted in the Sunset against District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar. Courtesy Mar's Twitter feed  

Hate in the Sunset
The Hsu matter isn't the only incident of racism that has recently occurred in San Francisco. Last week, District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar was the target of racist and homophobic slurs on flyers posted in the Sunset district. "Some of the flyers read 'communist pedophile,' while others appeared to present a distorted mock agenda for the supervisor intended to denigrate him, saying he supported 'more drugs, more homelessness, grooming children,' and 'free money to crackheads,' along with 'kick out the Chinese, bring in gangs.' Mar is Chinese American," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Mar, who is a straight ally, wrote on Twitter: "These flyers bear a striking resemblance to the 'No Slums in the Sunset' flyers that also used red scare rhetoric to attack me for daring to support affordable housing for working families. But these go a step further, calling me a 'pedophile,' & a 'groomer.' This is a disturbing, dangerous smear that's emerged from the fringes of the right-wing, used to attack the LGBTQ community and their allies. It's a tired trope, but it does real damage."

He's right about that. Mar pointed out that while he's used to attacks as a public official, queer kids, especially trans youth and young Black, Indigenous, and people of color may be adversely affected by this hate speech. Queer youth — and adults, for that matter — are welcome in San Francisco.

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