MARTA ‘Yellow Line’ to Doraville Angers Some in Asian Community

Dan Chapman and Ariel Hart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 8, 2010

Asian-American activists offended that MARTA [Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] re-named the train line into the heart of Atlanta’s Asian community the “yellow line” will take their objections to the transit agency’s chief on Friday.

“Yellow,” as a term for skin color, carries a generally negative, racist connotation among Asians.

MARTA officials were warned by an employee before the name change last October that Atlanta’s burgeoning Asian community would find the term for the line to Doraville offensive.

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Park and other Asian activists plan to meet Friday with MARTA CEO Beverly Scott. They hope MARTA will change the line’s name from yellow to gold.

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MARTA launched the color-coded lines Oct. 1 to help passengers navigate the system more easily. Transit officials noted that other systems, including Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, use similar color codes. MARTA designates its lines red, green, blue and yellow.

John Yasutake, MARTA’s former manager of equal opportunity and conflict resolution, attended what he called “a senior staff meeting” Sept. 1 where the proposed name changes for the Doraville line and other routes were discussed. Scott did not attend the meeting.

“I said, ‘Hold on folks, do you realize that there’s a very large Asian community in Doraville and the surrounding area?” Yasutake recalled Monday. “I was offended as an Asian man. Would we run a line through East Point or the West End and call it the ‘black’ line?”

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In her response to Yasutake, Scott said, {snip} “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.”

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The color yellow has a long history of being used in a negative way when referring to Asians. The so-called “yellow peril,” which entered the U.S. vernacular in the 19th century with the arrival of Chinese immigrants, raised racist fears of an assault on Western values and standards of living. Fear of the “yellow scourge” returned in force after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor at the onset of World War II.

“Anybody who rides MARTA knows that the line going up through that area is heavily Asian,” said Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. “These are always sensitive issues. Anticipation of concern and sensitivity, and the outreach, probably should have been done before.”

Scott said she heard complaints from the employee and a few advocacy group leaders. At a recent community forum, she asked some Asian-Americans if they were offended and said they told her they weren’t. She noted that Asian and American cities that have public transit call some routes yellow lines. However, she stressed that she is ready to listen.

MARTA employs 13 people in its diversity office. They focus on equal opportunity in employment and disadvantaged business and perform some community outreach.

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