Cancellation policy backfires on leader calling San Francisco school board ‘racist’

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Ann Hsu, the commissioner of the San Francisco Board of Education who is currently facing calls to resign from an office she has held for less than five months.

For one thing, Hsu said something very hurtful and racist about the parents in the school district she now represents. Commenting on the challenges facing the students, Hsu trotted into an old liar, blaming black and brown parents for not doing enough to support their children’s education.

“From my very limited exposure in the past four months to the challenges of educating marginalized students especially in the black and brown community, I see one of the biggest challenges being the lack of family support for these students,” Hsu wrote in response. A questionnaire from the parent group. “Unstable family environments resulting from housing and food insecurity combined with discouraging parents to focus on learning make children unable to focus on learning or its value.”

Unsurprisingly, her words sparked emotional outrage from a wide cross-section of San Francisco society. Parent groups, the teachers’ union, the NAACP, and several members of the Board of Supervisors have called for her resignation. Hsu even came under heavy criticism from the Mayor of London Post, who appointed her to the position in March.

Post called Hsu’s comments “wrong and painful”, but she rejected her demands for her resignation.

Hsu quickly issued a public apology.

“My comments reflected my limited experiences and ingrained biases,” Hsu wrote on Twitter. “I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry.”

Hsu’s supporters believe her apology should comfort the criticism and allow her to move on from the incident. But her critics believe her admittedly racist comments make her ineligible to drive. After all, everyone knows that expressing racism in public is a surefire way to get rid of and ostracize, and rightfully so.

Forgiveness seems particularly unlikely in San Francisco’s highly polarized political atmosphere, and no one should understand this better than Hsu. She was a key organizer of the recall campaign that successfully disqualified three school board members – Allison Collins, Gabriella {born}Lopez{/to be born} and Vauja Mulija – from their posts in February.

In this case, commissioners were accused of taking a radical stunt policy rather than finding a way to safely reopen local schools during the COVID pandemic. They tried to cancel Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein by erasing their names from local schools. They changed Lowell High School’s merit-based admission system in an unpopular attempt to increase diversity. They failed to heed the growing parental anger at the impression that progressive, performative politics had taken precedence over student education.

All three commissars were toppled in a landslide, with much of the credit going to Hsu.

A critical factor in the regulation effort, the New York Times wrote, was Hsu, a Beijing-born entrepreneur with decades of experience setting up and running companies in both China and the United States. “Miss. Hsu used her management experience to organize volunteers and develop campaign strategies.”

Hsu told The Times that she felt the commissioners’ decision to change the admissions process at Lowell was a direct affront to the Chinese community.

“He saw in the board’s decisions a profound sense of disregard for the aspirations of Asian American residents,” the Times wrote.

In other words, Hsu’s activism arose from the impression that the pro-equity actions of the School Board, however well-intentioned, would harm Chinese society. Now she finds herself guilty of serious public charges of expressing outright racism toward black and black students and their families.

Her offensive words angered many Saint Franciscans. They also provided an opportunity for some people to get a little revenge on Hsu.

“I saw this and immediately thought how incredibly ignorant you look. Anyone reading this should be ashamed and accept it as normal behavior by a school board member” {born}Lopez{/to be born}one of the commissioners who helped Hsu oust, posted on Twitter.

“Racism is racism,” Muliga said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “For us, there is no tolerance.”

In a better world, this might be one of those “teachable moments” where a leader makes a big mistake, finds a way to atone, seeks forgiveness, and moves forward with the support of his critics. It will provide an opportunity to talk about the misconceptions, stereotypes, and tensions that affect relations between Asian, Black, and Latino communities here.

But the angry and zero-sum political culture in this era of flashbacks does not encourage dialogue, patience, or understanding. Instead, we have a situation where every disagreement or mistake becomes fodder for a public cancellation campaign. What is a recall, however, besides the organized effort to eliminate a public official?

Hsu receives a painful education in what it’s like to become the target of intense public contempt. Even her fellow school board appointees, Lenny Motamedi and Lisa Wiseman Ward, distanced themselves from her.

Hsu, who actively campaigned for a school board summons because she saw the school board’s actions as “blatantly discriminatory against Asians,” must now confront her bigotry in the mirror. If she stuck to the same standard that she applied to her predecessors, her resignation is clearly too late.

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