SF Movement Arts Festival Director Calls Systemic Racism a ‘Con Job’

Jim Tobin downplayed institutional discrimination while highlighting vandalism at protests.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, and as rallies against police brutality and institutional racism draw record numbers of demonstrators to the streets of cities around the world, Jim Tobin, the founder and director of the San Francisco Movement Arts Festival, a dance and theater event held at Grace Cathedral, took to Facebook to publicly proclaim that the United States is the “least racist country in the world today.”

In a stream of posts, Tobin wrote “[a]ny person [who] wants to work and get ahead in the US, no matter your skin color, can” and trotted out tired, anti-affirmative action rhetoric:

“If you’re a US black high school student with a B average you have a 75% greater change of going to college than your white counterpart. 

“There is NO Systemic Racism in the United States,” Tobin continued. “It’s yet another con job.”

Since posting, Tobin has come under fire on social media, with Bay Area dancers and artists — including stand-up comic and social commentator W. Kamau Bell — calling to keep the festival director accountable. They’ve encouraged colleagues to email Grace Cathedral, the venue of the San Francisco Movement Arts Festival, about the Facebook posts.

Grace Cathedral will no longer host the SF Movement Arts Festival, or any other groups that are “in opposition to our own values and mission,” Ellen Clark-King, the Vice Dean and Canon for Social Justice at Grace Cathedral, wrote in an email to SF Weekly.

“Grace Cathedral is committed to values of anti-racism and social justice and we unreservedly condemn these racist comments that belittle the Black Lives Matter movement and deny the reality of institutional racism within this country,” Clark-King wrote of Tobin’s Facebook posts.

Some of his comments, which as of this posting are still available publicly, are directed at property destruction and theft during protests.

“These are not Race Wars. These are Class Wars..!!” Tobin wrote. “You want to burn — go burn the mansions of Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Madonna, Obama & Clooney…!! Hell if burning their mansions will save just one block of small minority own businesses – I’ll go help you burn those elite mansions down.”

Another post shared a clip of Candace Owens, a Black right-wing, pro-Trump commentator who recently announced in a video that she does not support George Floyd.

“ALL Black Voices Should be Heard,” Tobin wrote above a link to the recent video by Owens.

Reached by phone, Tobin said he stands by the statements he made on Facebook.

“I’m mad that all these small businesses are being destroyed,” he said — adding that he has read accounts of many minority-owned shops being vandalized, looted and set aflame. “I don’t want you to burn them — that’s all.”

When reminded of the several high-profile killings — of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and of the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Aubrey in Brunswick, Georgia — that led up to the recent wave of demonstrations sweeping the country, Tobin had this to say:

“The incidents you described to me don’t justify burning down small minority businesses,” he said.

Tobin added that when he has the chance to do so, he’d like to go visit small business owners who have been burglarized, vandalized, and burned. “My heart really moves for them.”

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