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Bus Brawl Leads to Dialogue Between Blacks and Asians

Youth Leadership on Race Relations Needed

New America Media, News Report//Video, Vivian Po//Video: Ann Bassett and Min Lee Posted: Oct 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO--Tensions between the African-American and Asian-American communities in San Francisco have heightened since a fight between two women, one African American and the other Asian American, broke out on a city bus earlier this month. Footage of the fight was captured by another passenger and uploaded onto YouTube within hours. Since then hundreds of thousands of viewers have watched and commented on the incident.

In response to the debate over race relations sparked by the video, New America Media hosted a roundtable discussion on Monday with a diverse coalition of more than 20 city and community leaders to discuss possible solutions to the underlying tensions.

Community Discusses Muni Fight from New America Media on Vimeo.

Participants said that it is not uncommon to see fights break out on buses between different ethnic groups, but the fact that a young Asian-American woman broke up the fight indicates that the younger generation is key to preventing similar situations in the future.

We need young people to demand the change, said Lateefah Simon, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Simon believes young people are laying the beautiful groundwork for diffusing conflicts and misunderstandings in race relations by bringing in new voices and new ways of organizing.

VIDEO: Interview with "Chi" the young woman that helped break up the fight

Muni Fight from New America Media on Vimeo.

When I hear my nephew calling an African American a black ghost, I shut him down, echoed Eddy Zheng, a counselor and project manager at the Community Youth Center in San Francisco, who is an active member of the community and has extensive experience in violence mediation on school campuses.

Black ghosts, pronounced huk gwai in Cantonese, is a racial term often used by the Cantonese-speaking community when referring to African Americans, explained Zheng.

You call them African Americans, asserted Zheng, who believes that giving up discriminatory terminology is the first step to reducing racial tensions between the two groups. Learning each others ethnic history is the next step, he added, noting that his own understanding was enriched by learning African-American history.

In fact, this opportunity may be available for high school students in San Francisco as soon as next year, if the school board is able to train teachers and fund an Ethnic Studies curriculum.

Jane Kim, vice president of the San Francisco Board of Education, who moderated the roundtable discussion, recognized the importance of teaching ethnic studies to high school students, given that 90 percent of the students enrolled in the school district are students of color.

Acknowledging the increasingly diverse student population, Kim said the Board of Education four years ago began looking into providing ethnic studies to ninth and tenth graders in the citys public high schools, and the development of this curriculum was recently completed.

As part of the new program, students will be exposed to the various histories and experiences of Asian, Latino, Native-American and African-American communities, and participate in community service. This will give them a chance to learn about their own communitys history and to see the social issues and struggles shared across the different ethnic communities.

Students can also take pride in their own community through the curriculum, said Kim.

While the new program will not begin until next year, community actions are already in place.

In August, the Community Leadership Academy & Emergency Response Project in the Visitation Valley neighborhood opened a window for racial interactions by showing the documentary film Slanted Screen, about stereotypical depictions of Asian males in American cinema. Screening this film was the first in a series of community building workshops called CLAER Diversity Roundtables.

This issue is bigger than Chinese-American and African-American confrontation, added Sharen Hewitt, executive director of CLAER, who seeks to strengthen cultural understanding through the workshops.

Change should begin with the younger generation, said African-American San Francisco Youth Commissioner DeAnthony Jones, who is currently a senior at Mission High School. But, he said, it should not be limited to the young generation. Just like how the youth got their parents to vote for Obama, Jones said that young people should bear more responsibility in educating their parents and the older generation on interracial issues.

On the other hand, Reverend Norman Fong, deputy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, saw the bus fight as an opportunity to revisit intercultural relations within public housing sites.

One of his priorities for next year, Fong said, is to implement cultural understanding enhancement programs, such as social events featuring different cuisines and sports, to create opportunities for more than 4,000 residents, many of whom are bus riders and were scared by the fight.

Some of them are afraid to leave their houses after watching the video, said Jennifer Chan, tenant services organizer for CCDC, who often hears stories from robbery victims who chose not to speak up because they fear retaliation. Chan said she believes the immediate solutions to relieve riders fears are to increase public safety and services by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

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