Wick Communications

Fair comment, unfair portrayal

In Ethics on 28 Jul 2011 at 2:51 pm

There is a guy named Leland Yee running to be the next mayor of San Francisco. I know a bit about him because he is currently the state senator representing Half Moon Bay and environs.

He and I have had occasion to see things differently. That was true most recently when his ill-advised bill to outlaw the sale of violent videogames to minors was quashed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had valid First Amendment concerns. He’s a politician. Sometimes he puts his finger to the wind to determine the prevailing political breeze before acting to best represent his constituents.

He also has a colorful past, including some near misses with the law.

Last week the alt-weekly SF Weekly ran a cover story headlined, “Sketchy: Leland Yee can’t erase his past.” It revisited two prior run-ins with city cops who thought he might be trying to pick up prostitutes in a notorious section of San Francisco (he was never charged) and a third kerfuffle in which he was stopped for pilfering tanning oil in Hawaii (I don’t think he was charged that time either.)

That’s fair game for a guy who is running to be mayor of a major U.S. city. But the drawings accompanying the piece really made me wince. You can see a couple of them in this post. …

If elected mayor, and he may well be leading the race, Yee would be the first elected Asian-American mayor of the city of San Francisco. I’m not suggesting he be handled with kid gloves, but I do think a little sensitivity with respect to race is in order.

If squinty-eyed caricatures of an Asian guy stealing stuff and lusting after the passersby make you squirm just a little, I suggest you keep that feeling in mind every time you handle issues of race in your newspaper. Keep in mind that your own comfort level may not be the best barometer, though. You may want to ask others what they think about particular photos, drawings or characterizations.

I try to err on the side of caution when it comes to sensitive matters of race. If you choose to do otherwise, you may be sorry.


  1. Not knowing as much about this as you, I would ask how close the caricature is from depicting the senator’s image? By definition, a caricature is an exaggerated drawing, so from where I sit I would not consider race at issue first. I would put more weight on the issue of solicitation and shoplifting. I would suppose that would lead me to follow your suggestion of not necessarily following my own barometer. Also, has there been an outcry of race following the publication of these drawings?

  2. Thanks, Jeff. There has certainly been a good deal of back and forth on the comment section of the story, though not much of it alleging racism. I haven’t asked the Yee camp and it’s really not my fight. I’m just saying, if I were editor of the Weekly, I probably wouldn’t go with caricatures that tend to exaggerate ethnic stereotypes… I suspect we each have our own level of sensitivity to these things and that may be another reason to err on the side of caution.

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