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Ann Hsu SFUSD Saga: After Racist Statement, Who's Pushing for Her Removal? (And Who's Supporting Her?)

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A woman speaks at a podium flanked by other people behind her wearing masks.
Ann Hsu speaks during a press conference held by the Chinese/API Voter Outreach Task Force on the steps of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 11:45 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 3.

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to officially admonish commissioner Ann Hsu, saying a racist statement she made on a recent candidate questionnaire was "hurtful and perpetuates harmful stereotypes."

The board wrote that Hsu's comments, "come at a time when the Board is in the process of reforming its behaviors and processes to produce better outcomes for students."

The emotional meeting prompted an outpouring of comments from many Black, Latinx and Asian families, all of whom expressed hurt and pain over the discussion. At one point during public comment, dueling camps of families shouted "Racist! Racist!" and "Support Ann Hsu!" at each other.

Hsu voted for her own admonishment. Speaking to the crowd, she said systemic biases need to be overcome, "but canceling one another is not the way to do it."

The board's condemnation — which falls short of asking Hsu to step down — comes amid a growing chorus of groups, officials and community leaders calling for her resignation.

Since Hsu’s statement came to light last month, the backlash against her has been swift. But that outcry is also being countered by a significant contingent of voices calling for Hsu to hold on to her job.

Supporters argue that Hsu, a leading advocate of the recall campaign that ousted three school-board members in February, has already publicly apologized for the comments and should be allowed to learn from her self-acknowledged biases.

KQED is keeping track of the fast-growing list of organizations and officials standing behind or against Hsu in yet another incident in a long string of recent school-board controversies that has divided this city.

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Note: Organizations and officials who weigh in on Hsu will be added to this list as we get wind of them. If you know of a group or person we're missing, email jrodriguez@kqed.org.

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Hsu came under fire for her recently unearthed written remarks that reinforced racist stereotypes about Black and brown families.

As part of a school board candidate survey she filled out for a parent advocacy group, ahead of the November 2022 election, Hsu wrote that Black and brown families do not adequately support their children's educations.

The statement came in response to a question about how she would improve outcomes among marginalized students in San Francisco. Hsu wrote:

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 as being the lack of family support for those students. Unstable family environments caused by housing and food insecurity along with lack of parental encouragement to focus on learning cause children to not be able to focus on or value learning. That makes teachers’ work harder because they have to take care of emotional and behavioral issues of students before they can teach them. That is not fair to the teachers.

Hsu was one of three new board members appointed by Mayor London Breed in March after San Francisco voters overwhelmingly removed Alison Collins, Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga from the city’s Board of Education.

Although Hsu ostensibly still plans to run in November for a full term on the board, that path was called into question Tuesday when her social media accounts appeared to be deleted, and a campaign website for a coalition of candidates she is part of was taken offline. Reporting by Mission Local indicates the change was due to the other candidates seeking to distance themselves from her.

Hsu apologized for her remarks shortly after they were revealed.

"I was trying to understand and address a serious problem and seek solutions, and in doing so I said things that perpetuated biases already in the system," Hsu wrote on Twitter, adding, "I made a mistake, and I am deeply sorry."

When KQED reached out for an interview, Hsu shared her previously tweeted statement.

As public scrutiny of Hsu intensifies, other statements she has made also have recently been questioned as racially insensitive, including one made during a May school board meeting, in which she said her son enjoyed online learning since he didn't have to deal with "riff-raff."

For many, though, the question over whether Hsu should stay or go is complicated.

Former supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim told KQED that other Asian immigrants may gain an important perspective from seeing Hsu, as a public official, acknowledge her mistake and learn from it.

"Certainly, for members of the Chinese community that share her perspective, it would be really helpful for them to watch her go through a public process where she grows from this moment," Kim said.

But on the other hand, Kim acknowledged that Hsu is an appointed representative who sets policy for children, including Black children, and understands why many want her to step down.

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"Once you're a representative," Kim said, "we have to have a good sense of what we tolerate as the beginning point for you to represent us."

A sometime entrepreneur who emigrated from China and worked for 20 years in the tech sector, Hsu now describes herself as a full-time family caregiver who has lived in the Richmond District for more than 30 years. Her twin sons attend Galileo Academy of Science and Technology.

It's an odd twist of fate that it was the successful campaign to recall three school board members that galvanized Hsu's run for a seat in the first place.

Collins, who is Black, faced backlash from Asian communities for a series of unearthed tweets she wrote in 2016 — discovered and publicized by a parent activist who opposed her policies — that disparaged Asian Americans.

Collins later explained she was trying to broach how people of color can remain divided. But many cited her failure to offer a straightforward apology as a political misstep that contributed to her downfall.

Hsu, whose political fortunes rose from the ouster of Collins and two other board members, now faces a similar line of fire. 

That comparison has been heavily noted in conversations on social media and in community meetings, as residents question the kind of message it will send if an Asian American school board member who makes disparaging statements against Black and brown people is offered amnesty, even after her Black counterpart was recalled for similarly prejudiced remarks against Asian people.

For many elected officials in the city, the decision over whether to support Hsu or call for her resignation is a difficult balancing act. That's particularly true for members of the Board of Supervisors, and their challengers in Districts 4 and 6 — representing South of Market, downtown and the Sunset District — who are on the November ballot.

Notably, the Asian electorate in San Francisco is far larger than the Black one, which some political insiders said may affect the political calculus of certain elected officials.

Who wants Hsu to resign?

The SF NAACP

On Sunday, members of the group voted 105-0 in favor of Hsu's resignation. Yulanda Williams, the group's third vice president, told KQED that Hsu's statement shook her in a personal way.

"For this lady to make these types of comments is insulting. It's harassment. It's racist," she said.

The statement, Williams said, also upended the Black-Asian community-building efforts she had been working on.

Hsu's comments "drive a wedge in the entire process that I have been working on with many strong Asian leaders and avid supporters of unity in our community that we all want," she said.

In a statement sent last week, shortly after meeting with Hsu, the SF NAACP said, “Her comments indicate a profound disconnect between Hsu and the Black community and blame the effects of systemic racism on the targets of that racism.

"Hsu’s explanation to us concerning her statements was that she has very limited knowledge of Black people, and that she is a scientist by profession, not a politician. These reasons not only ring hollow but are illogical on their face. Scientists gather empirical evidence to disprove a theory before stating it as fact. Yet she chose to make shockingly false statements about Black students and families while having no meaningful knowledge about them.”

The SF Latinx Democratic Club

In a statement on Twitter, the group said: "Ann Hsu ignores the Latino community, doesn’t even attempt to contact us after racist remarks are made. Hsu herself said she is 'committed to listening, learning and growing as a person.' Then why did she ignore the Latino community on outreach? Ann Hsu’s silence and lack of reaching out to specifically brown, Latino families clearly demonstrates her continued biases to the Latino community. The SFLDC, our community leaders and organizations have received no communication, both public and private, on setting up time for discussions to apologize and listen to the Latino community.

"This unwillingness to even attempt to engage our community demonstrates an even further inability to represent Latino students in SFUSD."

The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club

Also via Twitter: "Commissioner Ann Hsu’s racist assertion that Black and Brown families do not 'focus on or value learning' is inexcusable, and she must resign. We appreciate her service, apology, and acknowledgment of her own bias and ignorance; and that bias and ignorance is disqualifying.

"Commissioner Hsu cannot expect the communities she has denigrated to wait for her to unlearn her biases while representing them. She cannot continue to serve a public that has not elected her, and whose trust she has now betrayed. This is yet another damaging distraction for a struggling district. We hope Commissioner Hsu puts students first to do the right thing and resign. If she wishes to serve, she must run and re-earn the trust of the public. She cannot and must not continue in an unelected position.”

The San Francisco Democratic Party

The San Francisco Democratic Party board voted late Wednesday night, July 27, to put the party on record asking Hsu to resign. In the resolution it voted to approve, the board states, "RESOLVED, That the San Francisco Democratic Party stands firmly with the Black community in ensuring that the San Francisco Board of Education is free of racial bias and animus, and urges Board Member Ann Hsu to resign immediately and withdraw her candidacy for San Francisco Board of Education."

SF Labor Council

The council represents 100 affiliate unions, including more than 100,000 working people in the city. On its website, the group said: "The San Francisco Labor Council is calling upon School Board Member Ann Hsu to step down from her newly appointed position. Fresh off the recall from earlier this year, San Francisco cannot afford to get tied up in another racist scandal in our School District. Hsu, who was a leader in the recall effort, must abide by the same principles that she used against former school board members."

Asian and Pacific Islander Council

The group, which represents more than 50 Asian and Pacific Islander organizations in the city, has received some blowback from individual members who didn’t agree with its statement, made via Twitter:

"The Asian and Pacific Islander Council of San Francisco condemns the careless and racist remarks that have surfaced from (Ann Hsu) … as an organization that stands in solidarity with communities of color, these comments are unacceptable and unbecoming of a leader who is in the position of education and influencing the futures of our diverse student population. We acknowledge that an apology has been issued by Commissioner Hsu, but do not believe that it absolves the Commissioner from the harm that has been caused. We respectfully ask Commissioner Hsu to resign from her position as School Board member.”

The Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club

Alice is one of two prominent LGBTQ political clubs in San Francisco and a regularly sought-after endorsement in elections. The club's statement, via Twitter: "Racism, Xenophobia, and other discriminatory language and behavior is simply unacceptable. To have this situation come up again from the governing body overseeing the well-being of San Francisco’s children is appalling.

We join the community voices in respectfully asking School Board Commissioner Ann Hsu to step down.

We don’t need more examples of harmful behavior and language being accepted in this country, and certainly not in San Francisco.

Enough is enough."

SF Black Wallstreet

As part of its public response, the organization said: "We believe Hsu's statements were informed by her inherent racist biases and reflected her true beliefs regarding 36 percent of Black and Brown students attending school in the San Francisco Unified School District.

"Beliefs like Hsu's are how slavery and Jim Crow laws that dehumanized Black people and enforced segregation and inequality were able to prevail for over 400 years in America. In the last 50 years, communities of color have experienced astronomical financial and educational gains as a result of the Civil Rights Movement led by the Black Community seeking better access to quality education and living wages. Hsu's statements were offensive and erased our community's history of fighting for quality education for our children."

The Black & Asian Alliance Network

The group, founded by a person of mixed Black and Asian background, issued its statement via Twitter: "We recognize the many people who Hsu and her supporters continually erase with conversations that put non-engagement from parents and issues of poverty at the feet of ‘Black and Brown’ students. Operating from a framework that divides ‘Black and Brown’ students from Asian students, many of whom also live in poverty, many of whom also live in environments where there is a lack of parental leadership, is operating directly from the book of the Model Minority Myth and White Supremacy. It is racist, full stop.”

SF Young Democrats

Its statement, via Twitter: "We join @SFBlackWallSt, @SFLatinxDems, @api_council, @harveymilkclub, @AliceLGBTQDems, Coleman Advocates, @UESF, @shamannwalton, @conniechansf, @DeanPreston, & community members across SF in strongly condemning BOE Commissioner Ann Hsu’s racist remarks & urging her to resign."

United Educators of San Francisco

In a statement, UESF President Cassondra Curiel said: "It is sad and stunning that someone who is supposed to represent the interests of all San Francisco public school students responded in a written candidate survey with racist and offensive comments. Ann Hsu has no place in the education of our children and must resign and get out of the school board race."

The Rose Pak Democratic Club

The club advocates for issues in Asian communities and beyond in San Francisco. Via Twitter: "In cases like this, RPDC must listen and center our conversation around the groups harmed–Black and Brown communities. They have spoken clearly ... A year ago, we wrote in a statement that, “the Chinese community continues to be painted with a single brush stroke by those who refuse to acknowledge the nuances of our existence." The same can be said about our Black and Brown families. Hsu has regretfully shown herself to be an active participant in this narrative. The Rose Pak Democratic Club has no choice but to formally call on Commissioner Ann Hsu to resign from the San Francisco Board of Education."

African American Parent Advisory Council

The parent group's statement, via Twitter: "How can we as Black families trust the Board to revise the district's values and goals with our children in mind when members so boldly spew hateful and harmful ideas about students and families with no response from the rest of the Board? If the Board allows racism within its own ranks to stand with only a Twitter apology as acknowledgment, what message does that send throughout the entire district?"

San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton

In a statement issued at the Board of Supervisors, Walton said Hsu should resign: "This is flat out wrong and racist to perpetuate harmful stereotypes on Black and Brown students and their families who have been disenfranchised by systemic racism for decades. It is disheartening that someone in a position responsible for making decisions for 50,000 children lead with racism and stereotypical characterizations. There’s no learning curve for how to treat people and respect people of different cultures when you’re in a leadership
position as a Commissioner on the Board of Education. Bottom line, these statements are reflective of how a person really feels and it is evident that anyone with these beliefs should not be responsible for making decisions for our children."

San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan

Chan, who represents the Richmond District, where Hsu lives, wrote on Twitter: "I am disappointed and disheartened by Commissioner Ann Hsu's anti-Black and racist statements made and reported in at least two occasions by the media. Her words perpetuate racist stereotypes and further divide communities of color in a time when we need to stand united against hate. I thank Commissioner Hsu for her service and respectfully ask her to step down from her position on the Board of Education so that we can get back on track to ensure all students and their families can receive the quality, equitable public education they deserve."

San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston

On Twitter, Preston said: "I join my colleagues and many others in unequivocally condemning appointed school board member Ann Hsu’s racist comments. Her written comments suggesting that Black and brown parents do not value learning show prejudice, ignorance, and a lack of fitness to serve the families and students who rely on our public schools. Her apology was an important step in addressing the harm she has caused for the community. However, if this is how she views Black and brown families, it is hard to see how she can be an effective member of our Board of Education. I join my colleagues @shamannwalton and @conniechansf in urging appointee Ann Hsu to resign from the School Board. I further urge her to drop out of the race for School Board in this election cycle."

San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí

In a statement on Twitter, Safaí said: "[Ann Hsu] should resign from the SF BOE. Her racist statements about Black and Brown children and their parents perpetuates decades long stereotypes. We need leaders who respect and are willing to learn from all communities. Let us remember – serving on the BOE is a privilege."

BART Board Member Bevan Dufty

Via Twitter: "I believe that [Hsu] should resign in the interest of current and future @SFUSD African American & Latino families. Her answer on a campaign questionnaire was deliberate and revealed a deep ignorance that can’t be glossed over by a select handful of staged appearances."

Board of Education candidate Alida Fisher

This local parent is running for SF Board of Education. Her statement, via her website: "The conversation triggered by Commissioner Hsu’s racist statement is taking us backwards to the toxic divisions that we experienced a year ago. The statement showed a lack of understanding of our communities in San Francisco. Racial and ethnic groups are again being pitted against each other. This needs to stop now for the health and wellbeing of our children and youth."

SF Berniecrats

The local chapter of the national Berniecrats group wrote publicly: "Hsu’s statement perpetuates racist stereotypes of Black and Brown familial situations and values. This reflects a pattern of behavior that Hsu has exhibited, both prior to and during her appointed term on the Board of Education, a deep-seated bias that, we believe in good faith, cannot be unlearned expediently enough to avoid voting on future School Board motions to the detriment of our Black and Brown communities."

Who wants Hsu to remain in office?

Chinese Parent Advisory Council

In a statement on Twitter, the group said: "CPAC recognizes systemic, social & economic factors that prevent Black & Brown students from achieving education potential. Commissioner Hsu’s wordings were not chosen w care & caused harm. She has shown leadership in her unconditional apology & commitment to repairing that harm. We are confident that she will take this opportunity to leverage her unique perspective & reaffirmed equity focus in fighting for all students in closing the achievement gaps."

Mayor London Breed

In a number of public statements, Breed has defended Hsu and said this should be a teaching moment. The mayor made the point, publicly and repeatedly, that Hsu made a genuine apology, unlike Collins, and that this should serve as a learning opportunity for the rookie politician.

In an interview with the SF Standard, Breed said: "It was very disappointing and hurtful to the Latino and African American communities, her comments. But what I appreciated about what she did, she immediately, unlike other people who have been in the position and made comments that were hurtful to communities, she came forward and apologized. And apologized for her comments and how it impacted other communities, and she went further than that and said she wants to use this as an opportunity to have a better understanding. What I am hopeful is that we don't just dismiss this and say 'she needs to resign.' How do we come together and make this a teaching moment? How do we prevent this from becoming politically divisive?"

In a group petition: The Chinese American Democratic Club, Friends of Lowell Foundation, SFCAUSE, United Peace Collaborative, 300+ individual signatories

A petition supporting Hsu was signed by more than 300 individuals, including former San Francisco Democratic Party chair Mary Jung, former San Francisco supervisor Tony Hall, former redistricting commissioner Lily Ho, and by numerous Asian San Francisco groups.

That petition reads, "We understand that she made a mistake. She is human. But we also know that she did not do so out of any malice. She has apologized and taken responsibility for her words. She has vowed to make amends by listening, improving her own understanding, and taking critical action at the Board of Education to help all students. Ann has vowed to help bridge the communities within San Francisco. We believe, as Mayor Breed has said, that this can be a 'teaching moment.' Ann has already begun the work to make it one. We do not believe that Ann should resign. We do not accept that as an appropriate action."

SF Guardians

The group, now under a new name, played a central role in the February San Francisco Board of Education recall election, moving to oust the commissioners in that election. Via Twitter: "We don't expect our leaders to be perfect but we do expect them to acknowledge, listen & grow when they make mistakes. Ann has demonstrated that.

Over 96% of SF Guardians voted to support Ann, Lainie & Lisa for the school board. And we'll be campaigning to elect them this fall."

Supervisor Gordon Mar

Mar, who represents the heavily Asian Sunset District and other westside neighborhoods, is running for reelection this November, and is therefore walking a fine line on this issue.

Mar told KQED, by text message: "I spoke with Commissioner Hsu this weekend and believe that she is sincere in her apology, to learn from her mistakes and to repair the harm her insensitive and racist comments have had on African American and Latinx families. In several months, voters will decide whether she's qualified to continue serving in this important role, so I'm calling for her to proactively follow through on her commitments to African American and Latinx families rather than for her resignation at this time."

Board of Supervisors candidate Leanna Louie

Louie was a central figure in pushing for last year's recall of three San Francisco school board members. She also helped drive the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, arguing he did not make the Asian community safe. Now she's channeling that political energy to run for District 4 supervisor against incumbent Gordon Mar.

Louie told KQED, by text message: "Ann Hsu should not resign. She was speaking based on the statistics of academics reports provided by the SFUSD. There was NO intent to hurt anyone. There is too much spin and not enough understanding from the people who are calling her to resign. Ann is genuinely working hard to find solutions for better education for every student. Let's work together, not against each other."

When KQED asked Louie if she believed Hsu's comments were rooted in fact, she replied, "Yes."

Board of Supervisors candidate Honey Mahogany

Mahogany, a former legislative aide to now-Assemblymember Matt Haney, is also running in November's election to represent San Francisco's District 6, which includes South of Market, downtown and Treasure Island.

Mahogany told KQED, via text message: "While I am hurt and upset by Ann Hsu's words, I also think we all need time to process this and figure out a way to bring our communities together. Too many times I have seen our divisions exploited and made worse instead of doing the work to bring us together. I think there is a teachable moment here and a restorative justice approach that can be taken. "

San Francisco Entertainment Commissioner Cyn Wang

In a statement on Twitter, Wang said: "[Ann Hsu's] answer to @SFParents questionnaire perpetuated racist stereotypes & deserves scrutiny. I'm encouraged by her apology + acknowledgment of systemic racism & cmmitmt to learning, but she must re-earn trust & demonstrate how she will show up for black & brown families. I also want to acknowledge that [Hsu] and her colleagues have made tremendous progress in centering student outcomes and improving governance over the last few months. I believe she's earned the opportunity to re-earn that trust."

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