I DIDN’T WANT TO BE RACIST BUT I WAS

“epiphany: a moment of sudden revelation or insight;” “misogynist: a person who…is strongly prejudiced against women.”

overcomesubconsciousblocksThree epiphanies in my adult life have brought me face-to-face with some unfortunate facts about myself: I am a racist and a misogynist. I never wanted to be a racist, and for much of my life I had never even heard the word misogynist. I thought of racism as ridiculous, unchristian, and mean. As a 17-year-old college sophomore, I wrote a letter to the editor of The Baptist Standard, protesting rude treatment of my college’s African-American basketball players at a game with a segregated Baptist college. My letter was published and answered cordially by the editor, but it incited a backlash of frightening hate mail from a creepy preacher in Florida who called me a Pinko Commie and declared that, “Segregation is according to God’s law,” set to the tune of “Standing on the Promises of God.” He warned me of the dangers of “pure little white girls” sitting on the same toilet seats that females of color had used.

In 1961, I was vehemently and vociferously opposed when, in speedy reaction to a dark-skinned visitor from Sheppard Air Force Base darkening our church door (pun noted, but not intended), our congregation called an emergency closed-door business meeting and voted NO on the question of whether we would accept him for membership should he respond to the Lord’s invitation to be saved and baptized there. No one bothered to ask the Lord’s opinion.

“How can we send missionaries to Africa but reject someone of the same race in our own church?” I screamed through indignant tears.

I befriended some African-Americans at Midwestern University. A girl named Pat even came to my wedding in 1964, accompanied by our beloved Baptist Student Union director, Lena Faye Alford, but Pat had second thoughts about breaking bread–well, cake–with all the white people in attendance, even though we had sung Let us break bread together on our knees when we worked side-by-side at Vacation Bible School in the projects. Pat left before the reception.

My first epiphany was brief, just a flash of insight. I had left Texas in 1965 to teach in Guadalajara, Mexico, where there were more than a thousand US students in medical school. I saw two of them on a street corner–one black, one white. I mentally processed them as “gringo medical students,” not immediately making the black-white distinction. I had seen that black student as a regular human being. It may have been the first time in my life that I had viewed a person of color that way.

“Of course,” I thought. “I didn’t hate black people. In fact, I loved black people. But in our town, in our communities, we didn’t see black people.” Oh, we crossed paths with them, we sometimes went to watch Booker T. Washington High play football. Their outstanding choir sang at white churches. I had even interacted with them in the rarefied human laboratory that was my hometown college.  But they went home at night, safely tucked away from white view, to “Nigger Town” (Let’s face it: no white person I knew, including my own liberal, compassionate self, experienced the slightest discomfort when using that place name.)

When I returned to Texas in 1986, integration was in full force, and I was assigned to a middle school with a black assistant principal, whom I will call Mr. O. I’ll call him that because that’s what we called him. Mr. O was a few years younger than I; he was from Wichita Falls, a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and a Golden Gloves champion. He grew up in the infamous projects where my friends and I had once helped out in Vacation Bible School. He was easy to talk to, and I found myself in his office often–usually to deal with some aberrant kid behavior–extending conversation beyond the purely necessary. On one occasion, I shared with him my epiphany about not seeing black people. He nodded.

When I finished high school, Wichita Falls had two high schools–Wichita Falls High School and Booker T. Washington, but if you ask the average white person from my generation how many high schools there were, even today they will say, “One.”  By the time Mr. O graduated, Ryder and Hirschi had been added. Wichita Falls High was referred to as “Old High.” On a particular day, he and I were talking about an upcoming football game between our school and one of the newer Wichita Falls schools.

“You know,” I remarked offhandedly, “when I was in school, Old High was the only high school in Wichita Falls.” Mr. O cocked his head, gave a crooked little smile, and looked at me over his glasses.

“Really?” he said. Busted! We both laughed, but my liberal compassionate ego was more than a little bruised. That was my second epiphany.

I think I made progress in confronting and fighting my own racism, but many years later, the third epiphany hit hard, and I knew the exorcism was incomplete. Some of those demons are lying so low they may never be identified and exposed to the healing light of day. My daughter-in-law had been delivered of my fifth grandchild, by C-section.  We were admiring the beautiful little girl when the obstetrician/surgeon came by to check on the patients. I gasped silently but kept my thoughts deeply hidden. Not only was Dr. S black; she was a WOMAN. The demons of Racism and Sexism, showed their ugly leering faces. Until that moment, I had thought of myself as a color-blind feminist, but when it came to cutting on live human bodies, I didn’t believe that blacks or women were smart enough to do that. Some error-driven beliefs are so deeply ingrained I don’t think of them as beliefs. They are “facts.” Although my conscious mind denies these “facts,” they were embedded long ago deep in the darkest parts of my subconscious: Blacks  are  not  as  smart  as  whitesWomen are not as smart as men. 

And the unfortunate truth about my compassionate anti-racism is that there is an element of pity–the well-meaning but oh-so-wrong empathy of that hateful phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Bear with me. I am racist and sexist. My only defense is that I am still a work in progress.

 

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NEWS READERSHIP 101

Journalism has changed a lot since I took courses in Texas for a minor in the subject at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls and Baylor University in Waco, serving as editor of The Wichitan at the former, and reporting on religious and political activities for The Baylor Lariat at the latter. Broadcast journalism was a way-down-the-list elective, and social media hadn’t even popped into anyone’s mind yet. However, the principles of truth-seeking and truth-verifying, also known as fact-checking have not changed much. Whether you’re a reporter in the field chasing a story, an anchor  on TV reporting it, or a senior citizen in your La-Z-Boy trying to make sense of  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, deciding whether to hit the Share button, the differences between fact and fiction are still the same, and so are the differences between clear, accurate news stories and those that are garbled misrepresentations.

There are surely philosophical nuances in the consideration of CAPITALTTRUTH, but most of us should be able to get past philosophy to establish some common-sense day-to-day agreements that make getting through an average lifetime more do-able. It may be true in a philosophical or even neurological sense that what YOUR brain perceives when you say red is something very different from what MY brain perceives, but we can look at an object and agree that it is red as opposed to notred. No news story is perfect, and in the rush to make things known, especially things that REALLY need to be known, like an approaching hurricane, the rules are sometimes bent, but a sensible news reader should have low tolerance for bent rules.

So, what makes a news report credible? In Journalism 101, we learned about the 5 W’s (WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY?) and 1 H (HOW?). A credible report may or may not be true, but a credible report will be verifiable because it contains the following elements:

  1. WHEN? Does the report contain the complete date and time when the events happened, as well as when the report was written, and when it was published
  2. WHERE? Are locations described completely, accurately, and appropriately for the news medium? A report for a hometown paper or station might need only a street address. Nowadays, when just about everything goes instantly global, city, state (or equivalent like parish or province), country, and concise but detailed location notes are important elements of credibility.
  3. WHO? Are the names, ages, origins, role in the events, and other helpful identifiers of all participants and informants stated as completely, accurately, and objectively as possible? (Hank Oglesby, 56, of Spokane, Washington/ chief of police/ emergency responder/ the officer who answered the call/ the victim/ a bystander/ the victim’s mother/ a neighbor/ the alleged perpetrator/  Sam Smith, 37, who is awaiting trial on $2,000,000 bail for drug trafficking charges in Bolivar, Missouri–not just Sam Smith, a known drug offender) Do the sources quoted or cited appear to be the best the reporter could find? An emergency responder at the scene is more likely to have accurate information than a wild-eyed neighbor who saw it all from an upstairs window (although the wild-eyed neighbor will probably be more entertaining on TV or YouTube). An intervening police officer is a more credible source than a bystander. Reporters have to work with what they have; they should be transparently but tactfully skeptical, making it clear that although this is what the source says, it may or may not be what the reporter believes to be true. A good reader will share the reporter’s healthy and informed skepticism about news sources.
  4. WHAT? WHY? HOW? Does the reporter use direct quotations or accurate citations, naming and identifying the source of the information (see #3)? More often than not, the reporter arrives on the scene after events happen. Accurate quotations and well-identified sources lend credibility to the report, protect the reporter from accusations of publishing false information, and free him or her to report what is known at the time while being honest about where the information came from.
  5. HEADLINE: Does the headline accurately reflect the contents of the report
  6. PHOTOGRAPHS: Are photographs identifiable, and are their subjects, locations, and time frames identified in captions?

Ask yourself, “Who wants me to read this story? Why do they want me to read it?” Clickbaiting and fearmongering (“…spreading frightening and exaggerated rumors of an impending danger or…purposely and needlessly arousing public fear about an issue.”~ Wikipedia) are common reasons for attracting your eyes to a particular story. Here is some more information about clickbait.

In the days of hometown newspapers and international wire services, with three or four local TV channels and radio stations linked to three or four national broadcasting services, it was easier to discern the publisher’s or broadcaster’s motive which, typically, was to serve the community to the best of their ability and understanding, with the best information they could muster, while making good money selling advertising space to local and national merchants. It wasn’t paradise, the reporting was never perfect, the advertisers were not in it to serve up honesty, but there was a lot more of ethics and responsibility, and a lot less of chaotic corrupted self-interest.

It’s up to you and me to think like good reporters. It’s scary to be in the driver’s seat. We would all do well to review our “driver’s ed.”

(This was written in response to deficient and deceptive reporting about recent events (April, 2018) in Cancun, Mexico, where I have lived happily and peacefully for almost a year.)
NEWS DISCERNMENTNOTE: All the examples are totally made-up. If there is a Hank Oglesby, 56, from Spokane, or a 37-year-old drug trafficker in Bolivar named Sam Smith, I apologize. My choices of name, age, and origin were random, and I have no idea what part of my subconscious they came from.  PS: (about the magazine cover at left) I am not even dealing with, “Does something just seem not quite right about the subject of the story?” or, “Do the author and publication have a reputation for reliability and seriousness?”