Seeking an apology for Michael Bezinger from AHRC after he was called a "chink"
AHRC New York City, a foundation which fundraises programs for both adults and children with intellectual disabilities, is under fire for condoning racial behaviour from its janitor and security guard.
Asian American Michael Benzinger, an actor and producer, posted a complaint in the reviews section on AHRC’s New York Facebook page on the 14th of July, stating that as he walked into the lobby of the building, the janitor called him the racial slur of “chink” and instead of defending Michael the security guard working that day said to him, “all chinks look the same”, and then proceeded to laugh hysterically.
Not long after, Michael made a formal complaint to a director of AHRC, Pamela Minkoff, who according to his post, dismissed the complaint and asked for clarification on what the actual issue was. It was also noted that the human resources department of AHRC were notified but provided the same response as Pamela Minkoff.
Another director of AHRC, Sharon Fong communicated with Michael via written correspondence, which said:
“As a human services agency, AHRC is passionate in its commitment to upholding the principles of non-discrimination, and we have certainly reinforced our expectation of adherence to these principles to the lobby staff. In terms of your complaint, we followed a very strict protocol in investigating it in full, and the result is that we are unable to substantiate the allegation of discriminatory behavior directed towards you in the lobby of 83 Maiden Lane. We apologize for any negative experience you believe you had while in the building.”
Deeming the written response as unsatisfactory as an apology and acknowledgement, Michael shared this online, with netizens responding by venting their frustrations on the AHRC New York Facebook page and providing a one star review. Within days, Asian American blog sites picked up this story and the ratings went from a four to a one point two, with last count to date over one hundred and eighty one star reviews.
Many of the reviews highlighted important racial issues, such as questioning why the AHRC sent a director of Asian descent to deliver the response. Was it that the foundation lacked cultural competency and appointed Sharon Fong as the spokesperson for the complaint because Michael is also of Asian descent? This is the assertion netizens alluded to as they posted their reviews, with others demanding an apology be formally made to Michael and a public acknowledgement that this was a case of racism.
In response to the poor ratings and an overwhelming number of negative reviews, the Executive Director of AHRC New York, Gary Lind, posted a public statement on their Facebook page in an attempt at damage control. In his public statement, published on July 18, four days after Michael posted his initial complaint, Gary wrote:
A MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AHRC NEW YORK CITY
“AHRC New York City takes very seriously the recent complaint that an ethnic slur was made to a member of the public while visiting our building. I have directed that the employees of our contractor who were initially implicated in this incident be put on administrative leave and are removed from any public interaction duties. We will employ an outside law firm to review all of the facts that can be ascertained regarding this incident and to advise us as to the appropriate actions.
We do not tolerate or condone any such behavior. As the Executive Director of this agency, I will work to assure that everyone who interacts with AHRC NYC whether they be individuals with intellectual disability, their family members, employees, or the general public are afforded dignity and respect.
AHRC has been a part of the fabric of New York City for the past 67 years. As such we celebrate and honor the diverse and vibrant cultures that make up our great city. This agency strives to reflect that diversity in the population we serve and in the workforce that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The recent issue pains us deeply and as an organization we will strive to always do better. I apologize to those who were hurt. As we learn more in the coming weeks, we will take appropriate additional steps.
AHRC has at least acknowledged that an incident occurred. As a result, the two outside contractors (non-employees: the janitor and the security guard) were put on administrative leave as lawyers review the complaint and make appropriate recommendations to AHRC’s management. This provided little comfort for Michael, who issued a public statement to Asian American pop culture blog YOMYOMF:
“I think it’s great they put the janitor and security guard on administrative leave but why did it take 4 weeks and over 150 complaints for them to take racism seriously? I think the company is missing the big picture. The way in which the directors (Pamela Minkoff and Sharon Fong) handled the situation from beginning to end is totally unacceptable. They failed to see how “chink” and “ching chong” are racist. In the end they tried to silence me by having an Asian worker (Sharon Fong) contact me.
Besides putting the janitor and security guard on “administrative leave” what else will they do to ensure no one of any color will have to put up with racist harassment? What will they do to ensure the directors will respond in a timely and professional manner? In my opinion ALL of the staff (especially Pamela Minkoff) need some intensive training when it comes to racial sensitivity. I also will not stop until Miss Minkoff and Miss Fong issue a sincere apology, which is not blanketed by condescending, unapologetic language.”
IE: “We apologize for any negative experience you BELIEVE you had while in the building.” A more sincere apology would be something along the lines of “We’re sorry for our inaction and lack of professionalism. We’ll do our best to make sure this doesn’t happen to any guest.”
All Michael wants is an apology from the board of directors of AHRC New York and an acknowledgement that the complaint was not handled appropriately. Michael alluded in his statement that the board needed to take on more accountability for what had transpired, and the responses provided by Pamela Minkoff, Sharon Fong and later Gary Lind did not acknowledge the mistakes made throughout the complaint process. For Michael, it felt as though his pleas for an apology and an acknowledgement have fallen on deaf ears.
This fight continues.