Author’s Note: MARTA has finally made a stop at the corner of Sensitive and Rational. Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (www.ajc.com) reports the transit system will change the name of the train line which serves a large Asian-American community from “yellow” to gold.”

In the AJC’s story, Helen Kim, a director at the Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Doraville, said, “I think this shows that MARTA heard our voice and that they are sensitive to our concerns.”

Ms. Kim is way too gracious. The matter was discussed, then dismissed by MARTA staffers as far back as last September. Since then, they also spoke with leaders in the Asian-American community about the matter. MARTA proved stubborn. The AJC’s reporting of the story earlier this week indicated a my-way-or-the-highway attitude on MARTA’s part.

We’re grateful MARTA has thought better and made the change. For those of us who pull for MARTA to get additional state support and at least have more control of the tax dollars they receive, it’s one less troublesome thing to worry about. But they have lots of problems, many of their own making. The AJC has also reported this month on the broken escalators at the MARTA train stations. There’s the intimidating wide-open atmosphere at their architecturally stunning Five Points station. That’s to name just two vital concerns. So, given how long it took them to resolve such a simple matter, we cannot have much hope for quick solutions to the more difficult ones. Now, back to our story:

You can’t make this stuff up.

According to a story in the Feb. 9 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, MARTA has renamed the train line into the heart of Atlanta’s Asian community “the yellow line.”

Was this a hastily made decision by an executive without approval? No. In fact the AJC reports that  John Yasutake, MARTA’s former manager of equal opportunity and conflict resolution, attended a meeting with MARTA senior staffers on Sept. 1 about the proposed name changes. He reminded them of the very large Asian community in Doraville and the surrounding area.

Were the staff members concerned? According to Mr. Yasutake, not enough.

Is it a big mistake that will be corrected immediately with sincere apologies all around? It’s a big mistake, but there’s no serious remorse yet.  MARTA CEO Beverly Scott responded to Yasutake’s concerns, claiming “while it was certainly not our intent to be contemptuous in changing the name of the Doraville line to the Yellow Line, we thoroughly understand the historical perspective that you shared with us on the matter.”

So thanks for the information, Mr. Yasutake. Maybe by now MARTA officials have been refreshed on the term yellow peril , which originated in the 1800s when the Chinese first immigrated to America.  Perhaps they’ve also learned Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor made the term yellow scourge common again.

But forget all that history. CEO Scott is endeavoring to smooth things over with some bureaucratese. “As a result,” she says in her response to Mr. Yasutake, “this gives us added impetus to increase both our internal and external cultural diversity efforts to maximize the Asian American community’s inclusion in the Authority’s contracts and procurements, job recruitment, community outreach and sensitivity training.” Actually this translates into more meetings for MARTA staffers as opposed to just doing what’s right and easiest at the same time: give the Doraville line a different color.

Mr. Yasutake was beside himself over MARTA’s color scheme. He told the AJC he was offended as an Asian man. He asked, “Would we run a line through East Point or the West End and call it the ‘black’ line?”

There must have been some physically exhausting frustration on Yasutake’s part. Naming a line that covers a significant Asian community the “yellow line” should strike anyone as stupid. Real stupid. Think of Sergeant Carter in Private Gomer Pyle’s face, shouting,”Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.” Yes, that stupid.

Yet the news becomes even more disturbing. The AJC, in its excellent story by Dan Chapman and Ariel Hart, reported 13 people are employed in MARTA’s diversity office. The story says “they focus on equal opportunity in employment and disadvantaged businesses and perform some community outreach.” Thirteen employees in the diversity office? How MARTA allocates certain duties is not clear, but that works out to three stations for each employee focused on diversity. Keep in mind MARTA is a transit system with big financial difficulties. That many workers in the diversity department when MARTA is plagued with major problems is curious. It is even more curious that the yellow line designation was approved with so many employees charged to practice sensitivity.

The AJC also reported  a meeting was held in November with concerned Asian community groups. All that was to no avail as a MARTA official determined the parties they met with only use the system occasionally.

CEO Scott claims she has spoken with Asian-Americans who told her they were not offended by the name change. This is reminiscent of another Atlanta organization’s top exec saying years ago that their black employees liked working on the MLK holiday.

Scott says she will attend a meeting this Friday with Asian-Americans who advocate changing the color from yellow to gold. She says she will go with an open mind. But she also told the AJC that by the time any concerns were raised, “everything was printed, we were ready to go.” Balance those printing costs against the 200,000 plus copies of the AJC that went out Tuesday with the story and a follow-up on Wednesday. Which print job will prove more costly to MARTA?

At the meeting this Friday, it would serve MARTA well to be bothered with some unpleasant history. The officials could learn of The Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law by President Chester Arthur in 1882. The law was one of many that made life onerous for Chinese immigrants, who were first recruited to the U.S. to help build the transcontinental railroad. The law was repealed with The Magnuson Act in 1943. According to The Chinese In America by the late historian Iris Chang, it allowed foreign-born Chinese the right to become American citizens for the first time in six decades.

MARTA officials may flunk the history course once again but they need to ace Common Sense 101. The transit system is vital to the Atlanta area. It needs community and legislative support. It also needs to avoid embarrassing those who support the system. Still, we’re not as embarrassed as Ms. Scott and other MARTA officials should be.

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Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.