Commentary: Sandra Lee Fewer

Asian Hate Must End

By Sandra Lee Fewer

As a fourth generation Chinese American San Franciscan, I have been the victim of, and witness to, countless incidents of hate and racism. 

I have been told to “‘go back where I came from” in the parking lot of my local Safeway. I watched, helplessly, as my mother was pushed down by a white woman on a Muni bus when I was 6 years old. I have had police officers ask me if my name is Suzie Wong (a character from a 1960 film featuring a Chinese sex worker). I’ve heard the term “chinaman” used in the workplace, at my in-laws’ dinner table (with my children present) and in the private dining room at Fleur de Lys at a Christmas party with police officers. As District 1 supervisor, I was told to “do something about the Orientals” and have been told to “go back to my eggroll house” (whatever that means). Just a couple of years ago, posters of myself and Connie Chan were plastered all over Clement street with imagery of us in Chinese Communist uniforms. The list goes on and on. I am done – and I hope you are too.

So, when I saw recent race-baiting campaign literature that the campaign to recall our district attorney had created, I joined other API leaders in denouncing it. 

For those who have not seen the imagery, it depicts “a faux-Chinese communist portrait of Chesa Boudin, reminiscent of propaganda during the Cultural Revolution,” according to Mission Local. It’s in the tradition of the hateful words used by President Donald Trump at the outset of the COVID pandemic. And it has no place in San Francisco.

Now some may say, “Well these are just words and posters. So what?” But hateful rhetoric has a real impact. It inflicts harm upon those who are subject to the abuse. And it can lead to physical violence or xenophobic laws. As professor Bill Hing expressed, this imagery promotes the kind of anti-Chinese fear mongering, animosity and mistrust that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. These words feed upon the hate stoked by Trump’s anti-China comments, that have been used as justification in violent attacks on Asian Americans. And this type of rhetoric exploits the tenuous international relations between the U.S. and China. 

We often see news outlets in San Francisco, including the San Francisco Chronicle, report on anti-Asian crimes, but we seldom see those same outlets examine what motivates those crimes and how hateful rhetoric manifests into hateful action. That is why API leaders felt compelled to speak out.

The imagery is clear in its depiction: Chinese are outsiders, perpetual foreigners, not to be trusted, Communist loyalists and dangerous. Using fear-mongering tactics, it depicts our district attorney in this same light. After all of the API hate incidents that our community has endured, don’t we deserve better? Doesn’t our City deserve better? Doesn’t the district attorney?

Sadly, it’s no surprise that when called out on the use of hateful imagery, the recall spokesperson doubled down. API leaders – former judges, elected officials, civil rights leaders and more – called this material wrong and hateful. Yet the spokesperson dismissed our words by saying we were “the reason San Francisco is in such dire shape.”

Imagine, after rising hate crimes against Asian Americans during COVID, this individual stands by racist attacks on Asian Americans, and makes even more.

This race-baiting campaign literature, produced by the pro-recall campaign, lists several billionaires, only one of whom even lives in San Francisco. It’s clear then – outsiders are spending incredible amounts of money to recall our district attorney and using racist anti-Asian tropes to do so. They are silent on how their money is being spent.

This kind of hateful campaigning has no place in San Francisco. Our City prides itself on inclusivity, on diversity, on welcoming difference, and I hope voters can see the ways in which this kind of racist rhetoric and imagery causes real harm to Asian Americans. Too many Asian people have experienced racist and violent interactions like those I shared above, and this kind of campaigning must end now, before more people are hurt. If the Chronicle can report on incidents of Asian hate, it can also report on what perpetuates it. Racist fear mongering is dangerous, hateful and has no place in San Francisco.  

Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.

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