Statement from the President
The wave of violence against Asian and Pacific Islanders that culminated in the murders of six women in Atlanta last week is a terrible stain on our nation. It revealed for all to see the fact that systemic racism exists toward all communities of color - racism that for API people has become worse since the former president made them the scapegoats for the pandemic.
In the rush to condemn this increasing violence and combat this anti-API racism, what is San Francisco doing? Are we looking to uproot the causes of this violence? Are we working to enact policies that address historic injustices? Are we attempting to undo the incendiary rhetoric of the last president?
No. Instead, the city wants to cancel School Board Vice President Alison Collins, one of the most consistent anti-racist officials in the city, for a handful of comments she made five years ago as her young daughter faced racism at the hands of some Asians at her school.
Her comments - for which she has apologized - have been taken entirely out of context. Those who are doing so are utterly miscasting an expression of private pain over the isolation and treatment of her daughter, presenting it as supposed evidence of deeply harbored racism.
She responded in the same way that all parents - including API parents - have done when their children are mistreated because they are in the minority at their school. Collins called them out not just for the mistreatment, but also for dismissing her concerns. She asked the parents in the majority at that school to reflect on whether or not they had adopted the very tactics of the white majority who historically oppressed them.
The vicious attacks on our Asian neighbors - both the shootings in Atlanta and the brutal assaults in our own Bay Area neighborhoods - must be and have been widely condemned, including by the Black community. We in the Black community understand all too well the pervasive fear of being the target of racist violence at any moment. We all must be free from that fear and those attacks, and that requires not just words but actions on a national level.
But there is no comparison between the despicable racist attacks we have seen - violent aggression's born from hate - and the words Commissioner Collins wrote to defend her daughter from racist treatment. When we equate these two things - mindless violence from the majority and words of anguish from the minority- we diminish the seriousness and severity of the one and magnify the other. We cannot take words responding to a specific and personal experience of mistreatment and see them in the same light as unprovoked assault and killings. Who benefits from this false equivalence? Not the Asian or Black communities, that have and continue to suffer from systemic racism. Rather, it bolsters those who look down on both communities, something San Francisco has seen throughout its history.
Those in power in this city long pitted Asians and Blacks against one another. in a fight for the lowliest jobs, the worst housing and their very civil rights. It was all done deliberately, to prevent the two communities from banding together in mutual support against the oppression of the majority.
The campaign to remove Collins is just another skirmish in this long-running fight where both communities are set up to lose. It distracts us from the far more difficult work we must do, not just to acknowledge systemic racism but to dismantle it. We don't need recrimination, but dialogue and mutual understanding. That is what will not only ensure an end to violence, but also an end to the kind of everyday discrimination that Collins called out .
Rev. Amos C. Brown is pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and a member of the national board of the NAACP.
Current Areas of Civil Rights Advocacy
Advocacy for Education: It is sad that the school system though no longer 100% separate is not yet 100% equal. Recently, we fought for more counselors in the schools to give much needed guidance to our youth. Our abiding interest in quality education for all youth makes it disappointing when it appears that a certain milieu of children, teachers, parents, and schools are denied adequate resources pertinent for a world-class 21st century education on the basis of ethnic differences.
Matching our advocacy with action the Education Committee under the leadership of Seth Stuart sent twelve students of different races to Latin America, Asia, and Europe through exchange programs. Also, we have been successful in getting African American administrators in Central Office who had not been there before in decision making positions. As we address the issue like the over-criminalization and incarceration of African Americans, particularly males, our insistence on a quality education for ALL children is of utmost importance. As Victor Hugo said, “[We] who [open] a school door, closes a prison.”
Advocacy for Decriminalization, Rehabilitation and Tolerance: While pursuing better education for our children and youth, we do not cease to campaign for more immediate justice for our youth at juvenile hall and in the criminal justice system. The numbers of prisoners on the rise threaten to surpass the state’s physical capacity to further incarcerate, the prospects of “re-entry,” - the process through which certain inmates will receive an early release from prison and will thus re-enter society - are high. This can be a great opportunity! Thus, we are seriously advocating through direct dialogue with the SF District Attorney, along with Secretary Kate, of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to ensure that there are programs arranged to make the reentry facilitate safe and productive for both individual and society to which he/she returns.
We submitted a statement that has been approved by the National Board to become the official statement of the National body on the matter of ridding our country of the religious bigotry which continues to be so viciously expressed toward the Muslim community in their efforts to build a mosque near Ground Zero by politicians and others who view the impartment of fear as their only chance at governing the country. Advocacy for Community: We successfully advocated for the enhancement of the Marcus Garvey Housing Development and also for the Ship Yard Development in Bay View Hunter’s Point. We plan to stay on top of the Migration Task Force to ensure that they provide equal opportunity for jobs, business contracts and even more developments. Also, we commenced, organized, and led the effort to change the name of the Peter Burnett School to the Leola M. Havard Child Development Center, thereby continuing our fight to remove the symbols of disenfranchisement and bigotry for which likes of Peter Burnett are unrepentantly guilty.