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Racism takes a bumpy bus ride through SF's Chinatown

Updated: 2014-10-29 11:16
By Chang Jun (China Daily USA)

I was not surprised at the racist rant from a San Francisco Chinatown tour guide that was caught on video tape during a bus tour through the neighborhood last week. Sometimes people just lack the education and experience to comprehend and sympathize with the sufferings of others and put themselves in their shoes.

However, I'm more upset that none of the passengers seemed to raise any objection to her extended "f"-word bombardment of an ethnic group which has undergone decades of abuse and discrimination in the United States, but which has made tremendous contribution to its prosperity. I actually heard cheering, applause and laughter from some bus passengers.

I thought that for a long time this country had rid itself of racism. But I was so shocked by those on the bus who remained indifferent throughout the lengthy spewing of such hateful remarks, that I could not help but ask myself: "In the US, are we really over it?"

Asian and Chinese communities were saddened and disheartened last week as a clip - San Francisco City Sightseeing tour guide at her last working day - quickly went viral after it was posted on YouTube on Oct 22 and garnered about 600,000 viewers.

The unidentified tour guide with the San Francisco-based charter tour company City Sightseeing introduced the Chinatown neighborhood to passengers by saying "F your preschools making all that noise at 6 am F your salons F your seafood markets"

She also seemed annoyed by typical Chinatown sightings and traditions - parades, dragons and ginseng, laundry hanging out of windows and people consuming turtles and frogs as delicacies. "If you are considering moving to San Francisco, although this is the cheapest neighborhood, do not live here," she warned. "I've learned my lesson."

The video drew the ire of Mayor Ed Lee, City Supervisor David Chiu, and citizens from the multi-ethnic communities in the Bay Area. They asked City Sightseeing and the tour guide to apologize for the offensive remarks, and ensure that there is not a reoccurrence.

Calling the video "disgusting", Lee said society should be past such racism. Citing his own family as an example of being victims of racism, Lee said he is no stranger to stories of racism such as his father had encountered with many racial discrimination and maltreatment as a restaurant cook in the greater Seattle area in the 1900s.

Chiu called for an apology as soon as he saw the video. Astonished that those comments would have been made in 2014, Chiu said over the years the Chinatown community has experienced enormous racism.

"In the 19th century, in the 1800s, there were anti-Chinese Exclusion Laws and a history of racism," said Chiu, whose district includes Chinatown. "But I certainly had hoped and thought in recent decades and years that we had moved well beyond that. This (video) dredges up a lot of intense perspectives from many residents in San Francisco."

Regarding the tour guide, Lee said, "We have generations of people who don't have the education and experience that we've gone through in our lifetime. They need to be educated not just in school, (but) at home, when parents talk to our kids."

On the tourists joining in on the racism chant, Lee said that didn't surprise him as many just took it as a joke, adding that Asian Americans have often been made into "caricatures we didn't appreciate."

In response to the furor of the tour guide and the lack of professionalism by City Sightseeing and its operation, company CEO Christian Watts released a statement the next day apologizing and the guide apologized.

"I deeply apologize to the residents of Chinatown and San Francisco, for the conduct of a former employee," read her statement. "Comments made by this former employee on her last day of employment are absolutely not a representation of how much we love and support Chinatown, and every other community in San Francisco. Due to this unfortunate incident, we have added additional training processes to ensure that each tour is up to our rigorous standard."

Lee said the company's apology was not enough. "There's no way they can just say, 'Sorry,'" he said. "They have to demonstrate that they have to train their employees better."

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