RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in California, the owners of an Asian-American newspaper in San Francisco say they're sorry for running a column last week title, provocatively, "Why I Hate Blacks." Those words and a list of reasons for hating African-Americans created an immediate uproar. Yesterday, the paper's editor met with black leaders and told them the column was a huge mistake.
NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES: The San Francisco-based Asian Week bills itself as the voice of Asian-America. It's owned by a prominent Chinese American family in the bay area and is widely regarded as mainstream. That's why the paper created such a shockwave when it published a column entitled, "Why I Hate Blacks." The column was written by Kenneth Eng, a young science fiction writer in New York. Eng describes himself as an Asian supremacist. Among his reasons for hating African-Americans, Eng wrote: blacks hate us, blacks are easy to coerce, and blacks are weak-willed.
The sounds of jaws dropping could be heard all over San Francisco. And then came the angry response from people like prominent African-American minister, Reverend Amos Brown.
Reverend AMOS BROWN (African-American Minister): Oh, it was inexcusable. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it.
GONZALES: Brown convened a news conference of interfaith religious leaders yesterday to denounce the Asian Week column. Joining the clergy was Ted Fang, one of the paper's owners who repeatedly expressed his regrets. Fang said Asian Week had a long history of promoting racial diversity and intercultural harmony.
Mr. TED FANG (Owner, Asian Week Newspaper): We fell down on the job this time. We fell down on the job with Kenneth Eng. We are going to correct that. We will make sure that it never happens again. We made a mistake on this column.
GONZALES: Kenneth Eng couldn't be reached for comment. But just about everyone else of note has taken a shot at his column. Mayor Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, both denounced it. And several Asian-American civil rights organizations called on Asian Week to end its association with the writer. Even more troubling to some, the controversy has brought out into the open, views that are more commonly discussed in private.
Mr. DAVID LEE (Executive Director, Chinese-American Voters Education Committee): There are segments of our community, of the Asian-American community, who may hold some of these very disturbing views.
GONZALES: David Lee directs the Chinese-American Voters Education Committee. He says he often hears comments similar to those expressed in Eng's column, especially among newly arrived Chinese immigrants who know nothing about black history or civil rights.
Mr. LEE: We owe a great debt to African-Americans. And that lesson may not be known because the vast majority of new immigrants to the Asian-American community have come in the last 15 to 20 years, post civil rights. You also have a generation that has been born post civil rights.
GONZALES: In the African-American community, the Asian Week column is seen as further evidence of the erosion of black political power, due to declining numbers. The Reverend Arnold Townsend, who is also San Francisco's elections commissioner, says blacks account for only 7 percent of San Francisco's population.
Rev. ARNOLD TOWNSEND (Elections Commissioner, San Francisco): When I moved here in 1967, we were - over 20 percent, 25 percent - has dwindled and been run out of town. How can we be shocked? What we should understand is that he thought he could get away with it in this town.
GONZALES: Meanwhile, leaders in the Asian and African-American communities are laying plans for a town hall-style meeting this week to address tensions raised by the controversial column.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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