Chinese Progressive Association’s Statement on School Board Member Collins

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SAN FRANCISCO — On March 26, the Chinese Progressive Association issued the following statement on a member of the SFUSD Board of Education who made disparaging remarks about Asian Americans.
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For nearly 50 years, the Chinese Progressive Association has worked to build a world where all of us can live and work with dignity and respect — a world where all of us have access to healthy and safe jobs, housing, healthcare, and affordable and quality education. We believe the only way we will achieve this vision is through multiracial solidarity. Racial justice and building multiracial solidarity is core to who we are and our values as an organization.

Alison Collins

That is why we have so deeply committed to building multiracial alliances, solidarity across communities of color, and unlearning anti-Black racism in the Asian community. We are also committed to learning the histories and diverse needs of the Asian community.

As we address the comments made by Commissioner Alison Collins, we must recognize the charged and difficult context for our community. We are still collectively grieving the murder of six Asian women in Georgia, the recent deaths of Asian elders due to violence, and the ongoing attacks on Asian American community members here and nationally. We are marking over one year of heightened xenophobia, racism, and economic struggle, since our businesses were first to shut down and our community members were devastated due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile the ongoing debate about how to support our students and families as we move towards safe and equitable school reopening, lacks a real grounding in the voices of students and families most impacted, including Asian immigrant households.
It was in this context that we read with dismay and disappointment the comments made by Commissioner Alison Collins of the SFUSD Board of Education, a Black woman and an elected leader CPA has partnered with. They were hurtful and reflect a lack of nuanced understanding of Asian American communities, denying the history of Asian American activism and solidarity, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and treating us as a monolith. In a city that is over one-third Asian and a school district with over 30% Asian students and 6% Pacific Islander, that is unacceptable.
Chinatown is home to the largest number of families living in SROs. Our community members experience wage theft, unemployment and underemployment, mental health crises, and live in crowded multigenerational homes to make ends meet. Our communities are complex and diverse, and the rise in harassment over the last year has underscored how harmful invisibilization of our communities and our realities can be. This is especially true for working class Asian Americans — including CPA’s members — and working class Southeast Asians. These comments, while five years old, only deepens the pain the community has already been feeling.
Over the last week, we have needed space to listen to the reflections and concerns of our youth and adult members. Our members were hurt and upset by these comments, and some felt that they showed Commissioner Collins was not fit to lead. At the same time, many called for a need to stop pitting our communities against one another, while others wanted to give Commissioner Collins a chance to heal and rebuild the relationship and trust lost as an elected public official. Overwhelmingly, our members were concerned about the deep, painful and ongoing impact of racial trauma on Asian and Black communities, the divisions and racial tensions that exist between our communities, and the need for unity.
Commissioner Collins has been a strong partner to CPA. In 2019, along with Commissioner Jenny Lam and Commissioner Faauuga Molina, she co-sponsored the Our Healing in Our Hands Resolution, which led to increased resources for mental health and wellness for SFUSD students. In our work with her, she demonstrated a deep commitment to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and a willingness to learn about and advocate for our communities.
To move forward, we must do the hard work of challenging white supremacy and address the real ways anti-Blackness and anti-Asian racism have harmed all of us, with humility and complexity. This includes centering the pain and experiences of Asian Americans in this moment and the horrific impact of anti-Asian racism, xenophobia and targeting, without dismissing or diminishing the pain and experiences of Black people and other people of color. This includes recognition that anti-Blackness exists in Asian American communities and that we must partner with other communities of color to examine and dismantle anti-Blackness as a part of white supremacy.
This also includes calling for personal accountability from a Black woman leader, as challenging as that is in a system that pits Black and Asian people against each other, even as we continue to demand accountability from institutions that hold greater power than any one individual. This includes recognizing how the leadership of women of color and Black women in particular have been undervalued, attacked and undermined; from relentless anti-Black attacks on Commissioner Collins as a Black woman, to attacks on Commissioner Jenny Lam as an Asian woman speaking out for her community. It is undeniably clear that there is still much work to be done to heal from wounds both from individual and systemic racism across our school district.
Elected officials should be held accountable to the people they represent. To that end, we ask Commissioner Collins to offer a genuine apology that recognizes the harm, wrongdoing, and breach in trust with Asian American students, parents and community members. We ask her to commit to deepening her understanding of the varied experiences of Asian Americans, what we are fighting for, and the ways we have been harmed by stereotypes like the model minority myth, especially those of working class immigrant, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander, undocumented, incarcerated, LGBTQ communities, so that she can better serve the Asian American families in SFUSD.
If she is not able to do so, we ask that she step down from her role on the Board of Education. We hope that she will take this moment to reflect on the complexity of our community and what it takes to truly practice solidarity.
We also call on other members of the Board of Education and elected leadership in San Francisco to deepen their understanding of the Asian American community, anti-Asian racism and harmful stereotypes like the model minority myth, and how white supremacy and racism has harmed Asian Americans and pit us against other communities of color.
Over the last year, and especially these last few weeks, the attacks on the community have felt relentless. We are tired of the constant feeling of not belonging. And we all want something different. We need a more complex, humane, and courageous conversation about racism, white supremacy and how it has harmed Asian Americans as well as other communities of color, often pitting us against each other. This dialogue, however, must go hand in hand with real action to address the deep racial inequities in our schools and communities. We must refocus on what working class students of color need at this moment — to safely and equitably reopen our schools for students and school personnel while increasing the academic and mental health support for remote learners.
On the one-year anniversary of shelter-in-place and the global pandemic, we call for a united leadership that will lead us toward a safe reopening of schools and a recovery where we can all thrive.

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