Hotel Vitale apologizes to author

A San Francisco hotel has made a public apology after a noted African writer and university professor charged that an employee racially profiled him.

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, who has also taught at Yale University and New York University, according to his publisher, Random House. Thiong’o and his wife were in the Bay Area on the weekend of Nov. 10 to promote his latest book, “The Wizard of the Crow.” Random House had booked their stay at San Francisco’s swank Hotel Vitale, near the Ferry Building.

Thiong’o was sitting quietly in one of the hotel lounges on the Friday morning, quietly reading the paper, when the employee approached him and asked him to leave, according to accounts by both the author and the hotel.

“When the professor assured the employee that he was a guest at the hotel, he was challenged and compelled to further prove his status,” wrote Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, the hotel’s parent company, in the quarter-page ad published in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper, as part of the public apology. “These actions were unacceptable and this experience has deeply affected everyone concerned.”

When a hotel manager apologized but tried to brush the incident off as a misunderstanding, Thiong’o said his anger grew.

“It’s not a misunderstanding,” he said. “This person was very sure that there was no way I could have been a guest at that hotel.”

Thiong’o said he changed hotels and didn’t talk publicly about the incident until the next day, when he mentioned it during a radio interview about his new novel, which addresses the indignity of prejudice.

Upon hearing about the insult, one of the organizations that had invited Thiong’o to speak, the Priority African Network, or PAN, decided to publicize the incident and demanded a published apology.

In addition to the $450 newspaper ad, Conley also agreed to PAN’s suggestions that the hotel organization make a minimum $5,000 donation to a yet-to-be-determined local nonprofit that works to fight racism, and do additional staff training about racial discrimination.

“There was an unacceptable mistake related to race done by an employee and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure that never happens again,” Conley said, noting that his romantic partner and his foster son are black.

Thiong’o and others said they couldn’t help but make comparisons to the recent racial tirade by comedian Michael Richards aimed at hecklers in a comedy club where he was performing.

“He was a much more grievous character, but it comes out of similar assumptions and certainties,” said Thiong’o. “The difference is the owner of the hotel has not tried to shy away from the implications of the act, and for that I am commending him.”

artsbooksLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read