Addressing Justified Concerns

On Friday, April 24, 2020, Spectrum on its website published the article, “You Will Never Understand Racism Like I Do.” In the days that followed, criticism of the piece exploded both in the comment section and in sectors of social media. Race and religion are serious matters. Anyone who writes about them needs to move carefully. The sensitivity of the subject matter, and the tenor of the criticism Spectrum received in response, prompted a response of this kind.

As will be seen, however, the most appropriate response for Spectrum to give cannot and should not be related to the particular content of the piece nor to the specific issues it raised.[1] From a structural perspective, it is important for Spectrum to address some elements of the publishing of the story that were handled incorrectly, explain why it decided to publish the piece, and explain how it will do a better and clearer job moving forward. On a personal note, what follows is the type of piece that the editor or the board as a whole could write. At the same time, it may not be the best course of action for those parties to attempt that project, as every defense would look self-serving and every criticism like self-flagellation. As many of you know, I have written for this site for almost a decade and recently joined the board of Spectrum’s parent organization, Adventist Forum. I am more familiar than the average reader with Spectrum’s principles and publication processes. It is important to note though that I do not work for, nor am I paid by Spectrum, and I did not play any role in the publication of the piece at issue. I hope that these facts grant some latitude for a thorough examination of what went right and what went wrong in the article going to print.[2]

The problem as I see it is two-fold. First, Spectrum holds an interesting space within Adventist society and culture, not unlike a regular newspaper. It is both a news-gathering and news breaking organization that runs opinion, criticism, and news analysis as well. The first failure of the piece is that, regardless of intent, it operates as both a news report and an opinion piece within the same space. In attempting to accomplish these two goals, it ended up failing at both. To be fair, working on a story like this as a news piece is difficult. The events are public through one particular source, but for obvious reasons no one is talking on the record. Spectrum certainly did its due diligence in attempting to report the story correctly. However, those who criticized the piece for getting at least one crucial fact wrong are correct in their analysis. It seems clear that Spectrum wanted to present this as a news piece. It wanted to report on the story because it had value, and then placed the story in its news section. That being the case, Spectrum had the responsibility to ensure that the piece followed more closely to the standards of reporting — thorough vetting, consistent sourcing, openness about unavoidable gaps in its reporting, and of course, avoiding opinion, bias, or analysis in the report. Now it is true that every newspaper or reporting organization gets facts wrong from time to time. However considering the weight and sensitive nature of this story, more care was warranted in getting the story straight before posting the piece.[3] The fact that Spectrum made mistakes in this regard is not only an internal failure, but also a failure in its responsibility to the author and the audience as well.

The second problem with this piece has nothing to do with the content of the piece, but with Spectrum’s lack of clarity with its audience about its publishing principles. I think it is fairly clear that the vast majority of this audience believes Spectrum to be the journalistic home for those who ascribe to a more progressive form of Adventism.[4] Those people expect that Spectrum will be a reflection of their view of Adventism and the world. Those people are not necessarily wrong. However, Spectrum’s publishing principle is not to only publish pieces that align with the broad beliefs of the organization. Spectrum seriously believes in its mantra, “community through conversation.” In reality what that occasionally will mean is that Spectrum will publish a piece where there may be sharp disagreements about the content (or maybe the quality or usefulness) of the article being considered. Spectrum believes in giving a listening ear, and sometimes a platform, to ideas that could be described as not directly in line with its principles. While the staff (or our audience) may not be swayed by the contrary argument, there is a belief at Spectrum that our community is more complete and better when we attempt to understand and give voice to a myriad of perspectives.

To be fair, while Spectrum believes in community through conversation, it would be erroneous to pretend that Spectrum is unbiased or that it does not have a perspective. That is why, when an article is important enough, or sensitive enough, Spectrum may solicit a response so that other voices with meaningful and important viewpoints get a fair hearing.[5] I believe that considering the subject matter and the circumstances, that should have been done here and it was a mistake that a response was not immediately considered.[6] To be clear — a better, more thorough, and more diverse review may have brought the issues of racial insensitivity to the forefront. However, it does not automatically follow that the discovery of those elements would have led to the piece being pulled. Spectrum may have just as easily decided that the best course of action would be to publish the ideas but have someone write a response.

It is important to reiterate that while the piece at issue is certainly controversial, it is still the type of piece that Spectrum will want to publish — a piece that is challenging in some way that demands we confront and have an open conversation about the issue of race in our school, in our church, and in society. The issue here is that Spectrum did not handle it as well as we could have in this case. Spectrum needs to be more responsible about the context in which a piece like this will be published in the future. And there are plans to do so, both in having more diverse readers looking at pieces that heavily involve race and by having responses to articles when appropriate.

I would hope that there are a few things in the aftermath of this that should go without saying but will be said anyway. Spectrum cares about its audience and the elements within you that bring you here for news, analysis, thought, and commentary. Spectrum has no interest in violating the trust that you give us and part of the reason the piece you are reading now exists is for us to be more clear and direct with you about our principles and values. In addition, Spectrum cares about issues of race both inside and outside of Adventism. Over the years this organization has given several writers (this one included) a platform to sound the call for racial justice in our church, our nation, and our world. We realize that missteps of the kind exhibited here call our belief in that work into question, and the piece you are reading now is a small but necessary step to address justified concerns. Finally, we are grateful and thankful for everyone who shared their criticisms with us in whatever forum. Again, we truly believe that we learn and we grow together as a community when we engage in conversation with each other. We are thankful that you made the effort to take part in that conversation, and Spectrum will be different and better going forward because you did.

Notes:

[1] It is possible to do a deep dive on the issues surrounding the piece — the intention of the board and the writer and the conversation they were hoping to spark. The particular places where the author and the board failed to be more cognizant of racial insensitivity. The point of this piece is not to get into the weeds of that debate which has been taking place ably for some time now. The point here is to look at the structural issues that, while most likely not solving the detailed debate, would have allowed a better understanding of the whether and why that led Spectrum to think publishing the piece was a good idea.

[2] I think it is important for me to note here that I am cognizant of the optics of someone like me writing this piece. I want to make it clear that on a personal level I agree with many of the critiques that have been made about this piece, mostly by Black people. I found the piece at best problematic and detrimentally unclear. But this should also be made clear — Spectrum did not ask me to write on this subject. I volunteered to write this piece based on where I personally feel the critique of Spectrum should lie based on the beliefs and values of the organization and its goals.

[3] The fact that has already been changed, in all honesty, was a very simple fact to get right the first time as it was already reported correctly on the Spectrum site. Also, considering his importance to the narrative, the fact and nature of the author’s contact with VP Nixon should be documented in the piece.

[4] I believe this is true even for those regular readers who do not hold those views themselves. Also, as always, I bristle at the use of politically charged terms to describe modes of thought in religious faith, but I am bound by the ease of the terminology.

[5] I was recently personally involved in something like this, where I accepted the challenge of responding to a piece Spectrum published in February of this year.

[6] Despite this, for what I think is a fairly obvious reason, I disagree with Spectrum’s decision to publish Pastor Nixon’s piece that ran on April 29. That obvious reason is not that I disagree with the criticisms he raises.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com. He is a Spectrum columnist and a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Image Credit: Spectrum

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10414
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Thank-you for both the explanation and apology. It is appreciated.

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Jason, Thank you for using your voice to bring some clarity as Adventist Forum sorts through this unfortunate chain of events. I continue to appreciate your words and your vision, and I am grateful to learn from you.

On behalf of the board, I apologize for disappointing our readers.

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Jason, Thank you for responding and recognizing that confusion was the result of the article as published.

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Thank you, Jason, for this response.

Reading the professor’s comments to the student was painful for me, knowing that he has acknowledged conveying much of what was reported by the student. However, reading what commenters wrote in response to the article was even more painful. How can anyone think that a black person today has the opportunity to simply elevate themselves above the day-to-day realities of race in America–even by some spiritual means?

Watch the video released today of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery being chased down and shot to death in Georgia by two white men in a truck, just for being black and “suspicious.” It’s gut-wrenching. These white men have not yet been charged with a crime. And this is not an isolated incident. It happens over and over and over again in this nation.

How could anyone say that this young black woman committed “a stereotypoing” [sic] for speaking out about how white America continues to stereotype black people in ways that are not just unkind but deadly? If only “certain” white people are guilty of such behavior, are the rest of us simply off the hook? What about our silence? Where are our cries for justice? Why are black people who raise issues like this in the church often told that they are “too political” and ought to “stick to the Gospel?” The solution begins when every white person takes stock of the ways in which we may play into those stereotypes or fail to actively challenge them in our daily lives.

I earlier raised the issue of Feagin’s sociological research on the “white frame” and then withdrew my comment, as I was too distressed at the reactions it received. Nevertheless, before lecturing any black person about the need to rise above the issue of race, I would beg every white person to deeply consider their own racialized identity and what they can do to adopt anti-racist attitudes and practices. As a white person living in a very diverse context, I am seldom reminded of my racialized identity, and yet my friends of color are reminded of theirs on a daily basis and are subject to fear and the loathing of others because of it.

The best way for any white person to allow someone of color to “rise above their race” is to reckon honestly and extensively with the powerful and often pernicious invisibility of their own. Let it begin with me so that it can be with thee.

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For me personally, a follow-up response or two from primary contributors would be much appreciated. At the very least for the sake of further clarification. It’s frustrating when conversation is limited to secondary arguments about the original piece with other posters.

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This magazine has indeed done that, yet the response posted by Nixon, Shame on Spectrum was critiquing the magizine for its article on this issue. And the person writing the criticism was a relative of one of the people who was part of the conflict.

I don’t often share Spectum’s viewpoint, but I think you did well on this and were fair, and no apology was neccesarry. The criticism of the magazine was unwarranted. If this magazine, as Jason has noted, is for community, then a view point different form the general bias here should be welcomed rather than condemned.

Isn’t there a bit of stereotyping here? I have not ever told a black perosn to rise above race. But I have seen plenty of people here tell whites that they are all racists regardless of behavior. Most whites go about their business dealing with diversity in our nation, not even thinking about race. Judging on the basis of character and performance. But, my bad, that may be racist?

I have had young black men and women in my grade school science class. I have encouraged them to excel, and many have (especially black young women). And I have advised the young women that if they want to avoid poverty, to keep from getting pregnant before marrying. I believe that 75% of black children are borne to unwed mothers. Is that stat stereotyping? Was my advice to them racist? (of course it was said to the whole class, boys and girls, black and white).

First Things January 2020 page 30: “The process of upward mobility itself refutes a resource based thesis (for poverty). ( in other words, if you are poor, you can’t make it). The Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins and Isable Sawhill have documented the success sequence: Completing high school, getting a job and waiting until marriage to have children. Achieving all three virtually guarantees an escape from poverty.”

So, yes, maybe there is a way one here in America can elevate themselves.

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I would recommend a look at Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To Be An Anti-Racist. I found it to be very helpful, perhaps in ways I was unable to be in my comment. He defines a racist as “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” Whereas an antiracist is “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” He further notes:

“‘Racist’ and ‘anitracist’ are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

I find a certain freedom as well as challenge in his framing, as “racist” is not an indelible mark any of us are born with or permanently bear, but certainly “racism” is a powerful force we all must continually contend with, albeit in various ways. Kendi would also say that there is no “not a racist” category. We are either racist or antiracist in what we say and do. It is the defensive “I am not a racist” or the pious “I don’t think about race” positions held largely (although Kendi would say not completely) by my white counterparts that fall short of antiracism (as Kendi describes it) and thus become complicit with a too-often racist system or status quo.

Lastly, I would like to clarify that when I speak of the inability of black people to “elevate themselves above the day-to-day realities of race in America,” I am not speaking about their inability to climb the socio-economic ladder, although there are plenty of statistics that demonstrate disparities in life opportunities based on race. What I am referring to is that the fact that even after achieving high degrees of success, many black people find that they are still treated according to a “black” stereotype, which includes criminality, violence, danger, dirt, ignorance, oppositionality, and being in need of white paternalism. I have heard multiple stories of very successful black acquaintances–doctors, university administrators, denominational leaders–who have found themselves in situations not all that different from the one that took the life of Ahmaud Arbery. Every black person, no matter their station in life, is justified in fearing that they could become the next Ahmaud or a victim of the kind of injustice that initially found his killers “completely within their rights” to take his life.

The only way for America to elevate black people above this sort of deadly stereotyping (and the gross injustices that accompany it) is for white people to step in and dismantle the system that we–our kind–have created and continue to sustain. It will take nothing less than a commitment from each one of us to be antiracist to end racism. And as long as there is racism, I will strive to be antiracist.

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this sounds a bit tribal, and condescending…there are shades of a white superiority complex coming through in this statement…

i agree…i think this article is off the mark…if this incident between helga, the student, and dr. markovic, the professor, is an example of what people are calling white on black racism at AU, there may be a problem, but it isn’t racism…

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I think we have sparred before. Judging all by this man criteria is silly. People are all different, and racism is not the determining factor in most. Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” But your friend here seems to feel that there is only one criteria, the way he thinks on the matter… Just too broad a brush.

Really. You know this is not true. If you polled the blacks in any neighborhood, they much more fear being killed by a fellow black than a white racist. And the statistics would bear out that fear. Black on black crime out weighs white on black crime by a long shot. But it does not fit your narrative, so you make such statements. Please…

You’re way off base here.

There are a whole host of problems in the black community. I agree. But they are not all inflicted by racism. There are plenty of other issues. Personal choice being a big one as I have noted. Blaming others another. Is that the end of it? No, there is racism as well. but it is not the be all end all of it.

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You’re right. This could be understood as white saviorism. Sorry, I did not intend to convey that. What I meant is that too often situations like Arbery’s are viewed as a “black problem,” when in reality the root of such injustices lies with racist thinking harbored by many people over time. At the very least, I feel a responsibility as someone committed to antiracism to speak up and act in ways that can contribute to a solution. I’m certain that is a commitment we share. And I do hope you’ll give Kendi a read. He really does cut some new ground in the conversation, in a way that is “de-tribalizing’” as you say.

Not even going with you into “black on black crime” territory. Read Kendi. Maybe do a book review for Spectrum. Then let’s talk.

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We reviewed Kendi’s book back in December, but if @ajshep wanted to do a review as well, we would certainly welcome it. It’s always interesting to see the different aspects different people take from the same book.

I have a 3rd opinion: Racism is a kind of “moral deficiency or illness” that I am not sure can be cured. It’s a transmissible malign moral defect. Not genetically but certainly behaviorally transmissible.

I wonder if there is a 4th opinion on this issue… :wink:

Quite the offer webEd!

I will accept your offer, get the book and read it. I can offer a review then, but have not written such a thing since high school! You can look it and see what you think, but need not print if if it is not up to par.

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Got the Kindle addition. 300+ pages, try and to it this PM…

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Happy reading, @ajshep!

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For those who would like to learn more about the fear black men navigate in predominantly white spaces, see the research done by this Brookings sociologist: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/07/852319565/sociologist-on-how-black-men-try-to-appear-non-threatening-as-a-defense-mechanis?sc=18&f=2&fbclid=IwAR0Ux8fqR3k88NLqGb0a3IQfga4Ny03DcGk86_IbdeL5_m1HEdH_rHGpn9I

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I looked at your link. Here is a paragraph from it:

And I think this is something that oftentimes people don’t readily realize, and I think it’s because of stereotypes that black men are the ones who are threatening to others. But black men actually, at times, are fearful for their own lives just engaging in everyday, normal activities, such as exercising, even going to a restaurant or coffee shop, driving down the street.

I also looked up the crime rates, black on black, white on white, and black on white and white on black.

The stats show this for 2016, murder, from the FBI:

White on White: 2854

Black on Black 2530

Black on White: 533

White on Black; 243

The cases are about equal in number, but of course, the black population is only about 20% of the whole in America. White on Black accounts for 3% of the total.

The killing of the jogger was a tragedy, but one that happens very rarely in America. If black men in white neighborhoods are worrying, they should stop. They have almost nothing to worry about.

White on black is the one happening least.

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It’s a good example of how sociological research can be molded to a narrative by leaving out details like… upbringing.

People with PTSD associated with dangerous environments generally develop paranoia about certain dangers that are not legitimate.

For example, if you listen to Joe Rogan, the reason he got into martial arts was because he was bullied in school. So it’s a typical karate kid story, in which perceived threat turns into a life-long paranoia of being threatened by certain kind of people. Joe admits that he is threatened by people who are much larger than he is and doesn’t feel comfortable.

I can personally relate, since I grew up in the post Soviet Collapse era during which a missed phone call would send my parents into a frenzy that I am in some danger. A lot of people were dying. A lot of young people were dying.

So, I would avoid certain people on the sidewalks. I would take detours that minimized potential exposure to certain kind of people during that era. So, I tend to be hyper-aware of any environment I am in, since I grew up with a paranoia of a woodland critter.

Talking to many back people in my lifetime who come from poor black neighborhoods, their experience tends to be similar… especially for those who didn’t like the local dominance games and focused on education or individual path to success.

So, I highly doubt that an upper class black dude who grew up around white people would be constantly concerned for his life.

That sense of paranoia generally exist in people who I talk to and who tend to interpret unfamiliar environment and misread certain signals from people as threatening.

As @ajshep pointed out, the likelihood of a black person to be assaulted in a white neighbourhood, or mistaken for criminal … is fairly low. There are circumstances in which numerous black suspects involved in burglary create stereotypical perception that spills out into incidents like Treyvon or this case, but these incidents are extremely rare.

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