Despite an ocean of negativity, San Francisco still has much to be proud of as Election Day approaches. Each of the three leading candidates for mayor would represent a “first” for our city: the first LGBTQ mayor, the first African-American woman mayor, or the first Asian-American woman mayor. Any outcome would represent a step forward in a city that has in the past been an epicenter of bias, prejudice and discrimination.
Yet a column in Thursday’s San Francisco Examiner continued a part of that history of racial bias. A headline made the sensationalistic claim: “Chinese community support swings for Leno as Breed combats racism in Chinatown.” The implication is that there is some association between Chinese-American support for Mark Leno and racism. Yet, the Examiner offers no facts to support for that connection. The column offers only sinister implications that The City’s largest Chinese-language newspaper, Sing Tao, has gone out of its way to convince the community to vote for Leno, and then references a single act of vandalism to a London Breed sign in Chinatown a month ago. Nothing is offered to show any racial bias in the newspaper’s reporting or endorsement. In fact, Sing Tao, like the Examiner, endorsed Leno and Jane Kim as its top-two choices.
Despite the lack of evidence, our community receives a headline alleging “racism in Chinatown.”
Let me be clear: Racism against African Americans is real. It exists in all communities, and we all need to work hard to abolish it. But to casually single out Chinatown for its racism, based upon the act of a single individual, is its own form of racism, particularly when it obscures the seriousness in which our community considers the issues and the positions of each candidate.
One example of the maturation of the Chinese-American electorate was its overwhelming support for Mayor Willie Brown in his 1996 election and 2000 re-election, with the highest level of support for Brown of any population group in San Francisco after African Americans.
The Examiner has ignored the vibrant political discussions within the Chinese-American community, a community still mourning the death of its favorite son, Mayor Ed Lee.
The newspaper failed to cover our mayoral forums. We had more forums in Chinatown than any other neighborhood. It does not acknowledge that Chinese-language newspapers have devoted more column inches to the elections than the two English-language dailies combined. Despite all the engagement in our community, the Examiner implies there is something sinister going on in Chinatown. In doing so, is the Examiner missing the real story?
It is possible that Leno, a gay man who championed marriage equality, tenants rights and increased minimum wage, is the frontrunner in our mostly immigrant community, in which many still have deeply held traditional values. And it also may be true that despite all the vicious ads and attacks directed against her, Kim, a Korean American, may be in second place.
Rather than making simplistic, disparaging and sensationalistic accusations about “racism in Chinatown,” perhaps the Examiner should reflect on why it may be missing the real news. I suggest that Examiner reporters and editors check out the May 29 national PBS broadcast of the Chinese Exclusion Act film by Ric Burns and note the critical role played by the San Francisco press in the years leading up to the 1882 Exclusion Act in stereotyping and sensationalizing the Chinese-American and Chinatown communities.
Gordon Chin is a native San Franciscan and author of the book, “Building Community, Chinatown Style.”