On Saturday, this space reported the rather unfortunate speech given by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, and this blogger’s take that it was rather racist. This is the video that was posted:
Now this update. According to a source, Quan was speaking at the 16th Annual Chinese Media Awards in Foster City on September 24th, 2011. (Which means the video was uploaded just one day later, on September 24th.) The source said “Mayor Quan does seem to promote all things Chinese. I’ve heard her say similar things in the past.”
The source continues: “What she said was that Chinese immigrants “probably” read more newspapers than the average American. The context was that the Chinese community is most likely responsible for supporting the Chinese newspapers when most non-Chinese papers are going out of business. The video does show her exact comment though and she said what she said.”
There’s no problem with being “pro-Chinese,” but there’s every problem when the person doing it is the Mayor of Oakland, and it’s done at the expense of other people – average Americans.
Which leads to the question of just who the average American is?
Some have zeroed in on the rightness or wrongness of Quan’s statement, but that misses the entire point. It’s not right for the Mayor of Oakland to start such a conversation.
I remember when then-Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris was faced with the issue of whether to adopt the original resolution that Oakland schools should recognize Ebonics as the “primary language of African American children” and teach Ebonics – or “black english.” Mayor Harris, for whom I worked as his economic adviser, called me into his office at 7 AM on the issue, to get my view.
I told him, first, that English and not Ebonics, was the language I knew, and, second, that it wasn’t our job to represent some of the people, but all of the people of Oakland. Everyone has to learn English if they’re to get a job that allows them to keep a roof over their head.
Mayor Harris had already made up his mind not to support Ebonics. But one main reason was that Elihu knew he was everyone’s Mayor of Oakland, and not just a black Mayor of Oakland.
An Alternative Speech For Quan
What Quan should have said was this:
“The Chinese Media has performed well at serving the community, even in the middle of what is the most incredible upheaval in media in several generations. Organizations like – she names them – are to be commended for their work and their staying power.”
That statement is offensive to no one, yet celebrates the contributions and success of Chinese Media. Moreover, it’s something any elected official could say at an event like the Chinese Media Awards.
My singular problem is that the Mayor of Oakland can’t be seen as expressing an ethnic bias in such a way that people who are not, in this case, Chinese, feel that they’re not represented by Oakland’s top elected official.
That can send Oakland, which was recently plagued by a string of black and Chinese crime incidents, down a path of racial disharmony that can’t be easily repaired.
Moreover, it’s a path toward a type of community relations no Oakland Mayor has allowed to develop in our modern political history. Oakland’s beauty has always been not just in its diversity, but in its racial harmony.
It’s a point of pride that goes all the way back to the 1968 Watts Riots and fears that Oakland, then the focus of its own black civil rights tensions, would be the next place for a riot to break out. Indeed, the Federal Government spent $10 million toward the construction of what was then the World Airways Hangar to help generate jobs for Oakland’s people of color.
But the riot never happened and led to a book called Oakland’s Not For Burning.
Some reading this will point to the Oscar Grant riot as proof that Oakland’s changed, and it is for burning. But I counter that the Oscar Grant Riot was not Oakland’s doing; it was the fault of the Bay Area Rapid Transit BART system’s police unit. Moreover, that the Oakland riot happened is a sign of a city that will not put up with racial intolerance, especially when it’s expressed by police brutality.
But I digress.
I hope this causes Mayor Quan to think before she talks and remember that, first, there is always a camcorder and YouTube, and second, that she represents all of the people of the great City of Oakland, and not just Oakland’s Chinese Community. After all, it’s not just Oakland’s Chinese Community that’s proud she became Oakland’s first Asian Mayor, but Oaklanders too.
The Adams Point Dump Problem
Adams Point Oakland is a collection of city blocks bordered by Harrison, Mac Arthur Blvd., Grand Avenue, and Oakland Avenue, and and next to Lake Merritt. It consists of over 30,000 people and arguably one of the nations loveliest neighborhoods. But that beauty is marred by those who dump furniture and other items onto the street, or just don’t take care of their lawns, allowing trash to accumulate.
This happens all too often. Take this note over at the online community board for the area:
Hello Adams Point: A number of people have been unhappy with the dumping habits of residents who move away, leaving on the curbside their unwanted broken furniture, mattresses ( a big favorite), and boxes of varied material. Oakland’s Public Works Agency has an excellent call center with a 24 hours hotline at 510-615-5566 where you can leave a message or speak with a representative during working hours to identify the messy site where a PWA pickup is needed.
Do your part to inform residents in your buildings that haulers can be hired to take such items to our legal dump sites or residents themselves can plan ahead and haul away their unwanted materials to these dump sites before moving day. Let’s keep Adams Point clean, beautiful and cared for. That is the best way to sustain a safe neighborhood because illegal actors then know that lots of vigilant eyes are watching the streets.
I echo that statement, and add that if you’re walking down the street and see something that should be picked up, please use your phone to call the City of Oakland. Don’t act like the neighborhood doesn’t reflect on you, because it does.
Adams Point is not a poor slum, but an incredible mix of people with various incomes and backgrounds who, frankly, don’t know each other. That is what produces this dumping problem. People are not going to leave ratty conditions for those they know – if they know them.
What we have is a neighborhood that’s sorely in need of a giant block party.