Suburban Express, a transportation company based in Champaign, Illinois, is under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s office over its anti-Chinese ad, which may have violated the Illinois Human Rights Act.
According to the Daily Illini, the controversial ad was sent by the company to its email list on Dec 2 to promote its Suburban Express services, which provides shuttle buses to students from several colleges to destinations such as O’Hare International Airport. The ad told potential passengers that they would enjoy being seated next to “passengers like you” and wouldn’t “feel like you’re in China when you’re on our buses.”
The “deal” was offered along with a string of other extras, such as refundable tickets, no baggage charges, and “customer-friendly policies.”
The offensive emails immediately triggered a backlash from the Chinese community in the area. In response, Suburban Express issued what it called an apology, but which actually read more like a defense of its racist remarks.
“We made a remark based on the fact that our competitor mostly handles Chinese international students,” it said, insisting that the company didn’t intend to “offend half of the planet.” However, in the same letter, Suburban Express dedicated most of the space to challenge the University of Illinois (UI), a school that has about 5,900 Chinese students — roughly 13 percent of its total student number — for enrolling too many “non-native English speakers” who place “a variety of burdens on domestic students.”
“We agree that having a healthy mixture of different cultures and ethnicities is valuable. But we’re not comfortable with the idea of selling our university to the highest foreign bidder,” it states, in an apparent reference to the large number of Chinese students on the campus.
The “apology” letter stirred another round of condemnation. An official statement released by UI, said that it would ban the company’s vehicles from all university properties, adding that such “racist and bigoted statements attacking any members of our community deserve nothing but condemnation from all of us.”
The Asian Pacific American Coalition, a student organization at UI, also denounced the company in a Facebook post, saying that the offensive ad is “frankly dehumanizing and disgusting to our Asian classmates and friends,” and that it refused to accept the company’s “racist non-apology.”
On December 4, Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said that the office was “extremely concerned” about the case and an investigation was underway. By Monday evening, Madigan issued a subpoena over the company’s potential civil rights violation under the Illinois Human Rights Act, which promoted Suburban Express to post another apology on its Facebook page.
In the post, the company admitted that the initial emails it sent out are “grotesquely xenophobic in nature.” “It is our company’s mission to provide safe, reliable, and fair transportation for all students,” it stated. “The sarcastic tone and disagreement with the University of Illinois’ inclusive practices are just as offensive and wrong and we apologize with great shame.”
This is not the first time that Suburban Express has faced accusations of racial discrimination. In 2015, the company even posted an offensive story about an international student of UI on its website, calling him “A LITTLE WEASEL” for writing a negative Yelp review of their service.
“Please go back to your country and stay there,” the post reads, alongside a photo of the student. “If you’re thinking of hiring him, we’d recommend that you think again.” Judging from the photo and the name, the person under attack was a Chinese student.
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