In Oakland’s political history, or at least since Mayor Lionel Wilson, no Mayor of this town has ever been associated with a speech that could even be twisted as having a racial or ethnic bias. And for two basic reasons: 1) it’s not in step with Oakland’s wonderful melting pot, and the pride of diversity expressed by Oaklanders for decades, and 2), it’s just politically stupid to do in California, let alone much of urban America.
That’s what makes Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s recent speech given before a San Francisco Chinese community organization all the more unfortunate.
This blogger cyber-walked over the video today, and while searching for videos regarding Occupy Oakland. The objective was to find any video showing Mayor Quan talking with Occupy Oakland protestors, but the keywords “Occupy Oakland Quan” didn’t yield the immediate desired result. But what stopped the presses was a video with this title: “Mayor Jean Quan says Chinese immigrants read more newspapers than the average American.”
The full video by taibei1 at YouTube was uploaded on September 24th, 2011, and until today, drew just 44 views in three weeks, which means it was seen by almost no one. It consists of Mayor Quan talking for just over 8 minutes, and starts off with her saying “Good evening. I was told I’m going to do a couple of things. First of all I brought the regular proclamation for media groups. I want to thank you for coming together. And I also want to say a few words about (what sounds like) Lyn Chez.
“First of all let me say to the Chinese American media. We know that members of the Chinese American community – the immigrant community – probably read more papers than any average American. At one point, back in the days, when Lyn Chez and I were in the Asian American Studies research, I think the average Chinese immigrant was reading two to three papers a day. And if anything, our community is probably keeping newspapers alive in our part of the World.
“Because, if you notice, the (Oakland now East Bay) Tribune is shrinking and losing the Oakland name, and, um. But, the Chinese community, particularly the reading of newspapers and the Internet, is expanding and it doesn’t seem to shrink.
“I also note, that a lot of times, the Chinese Media does a better job of reporting local issues and it does better research than media as a whole… Particularly with complex issues.”
Here, some in the audience applaud.
Quan continued: “And for our people, we’re often invisible in the media. And you often catch the stories the media won’t run.”
Then Quan gives an example obout recent news stories regarding the condition of the trees around her house. She complained that even though Newsweek picked Oakland as the “Number Two Can-Do City” in America, and that this happened as Oakland elected its’ first Asian Mayor, that wasn’t news – the situation around her home was.
This is not make believe; the full video is here:
Not Oakland’s Style
Oakland does not smile on elected officials who openly tout anything that smacks of racial or ethnic superiority. Indeed, politicians who think that way have not seen the light of Oakland’ City Council Chambers in decades, and certainly before the time of Lionel Wilson, Oakland’s first black Mayor.
Mayor Wilson was known as Judge Wilson in the late 70s, and while there was much excitement over the prospect of electing Oakland’s first African American political chief, many Oaklanders were fast to remind each other that his wife, Dorothy, was white – their interracial paring was a source of pride in our town.
When Lionel won in 1979, he didn’t go around town on an “I’m black and you’re not” horse, pumping his chest out. Mayor Wilson always conducted himself with dignity, and his wife was well regarded by all.
Not Wilson, or his successor Elihu Harris, or Jerry Brown, or Ron Dellums, can be tied to any speech that would say one ethnic group was superior to any other in any kind of way.
A View Jean Avoided During The Campaign
Folks, let’s get one thing out of the way. If Jean had made that kind of speech in Oakland and in the middle of last year’s hotly contested election, either Don Perata or Rebecca Kaplan would have been Oakland’s Mayor.
As it was, Quan won because she and Kaplan joined forces and played the Ranked Choice Voting system like a harp. Then-Oakland City Attorney (now Alameda City Manager) John Russo said in an interview with this blogger, that the only way Jean could win was if two-thirds of the second choice votes went to her.
That’s what happened.
Then-Mayor Elect-Quan’s win was an act of God. Everything occurs for a reason and for her to become Oakland’s top elected official in that way was no spiritual accident. The role is Quan’s to make – or to break.
In this blogger’s view, her words of a few weeks ago could open even larger breaks in the already crumbling image Quan has. A recent poll gives her an approval rating of just 28 percent. It was hard for this space to see how Quan could sink even lower.
A Big Mistake
None of this is written or video-blogged with glee, but with a mixture of sadness and anger. In my view, what Jean said was terrible for an elected official to be caught on camera saying. It’s not just the blast about Chinese immigrants and implications of better intellect via reading volume, but her comment about “average Americans.”
Who is an “average American” anyway? In my experience, that terms is always used by someone who’s looking to say that they, or some group, is better than everyone else.
Mayor Quan got up at that event and talked without a prepared speech, and with her husband, Floyd in the room. That he didn’t give a signal for her to alter her speech in some way is telling. That Quan went on and on, and continued to emphasize Chinese political power and implied superior reading comprehension and media consumption, was disturbing.
Look, there are studies which report that blacks are more likely to use Twitter, a form of media, than any other group. Not only did Jean not get the memo on that, it’s shameful for an Oakland elected official to invite such a discussion to start with.
Not Something From Nothing
Yes, there will be people who say that I’m making something out of nothing, but given the friends I talked to about this before making the video-blog, I don’t really don’t think so. I’m not out to get Mayor Quan, so this blog’s painful. I really didn’t want to think Jean was capable of what I saw, but it’s on video. I didn’t make the video.
Even more bothersome to this blogger than the “Chinese Immigrant newspaper” comment, was that Quan would openly mention the advantage of Chinese voting as an ethnic bloc, and say that since it helped her win the Oakland Mayor’s Race, it could help Ed Lee become San Francisco’s Mayor, again.
Is that Oakland’s future? Open, in your face, political battles waged between blacks and whites and Chinese, and other racial and ethnic groups? Is that what the Mayor wants? If that’s what Oakland’s becoming, I stand firm and will fight against it.
Mayor Quan, please clean up your mess!