Op-Ed by Rev. Michael Vaughn –
This week I will venture into territory that may get some folks upset with me, but that is ok as long as they think about what I am bringing forward.
A few weeks ago there was a situation here in Rochester when a meteorologist jumbled his speech and said a racial slur on the air. Some who heard what was said got “upset” and felt bad at this because of what he said. The mayor and others African-American leaders in the Rochester area got involved and demanded that this man be fired from his job because “he is a racist”. Hmmm… here is something that may make many people unhappy; a definition of a racist: “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.”
This is a definition that I got from the internet. In this definition it indicates that there is action that has intent behind it. It says nothing of speech. Indeed, someone that is a racist will have speech that lines up with their actions and beliefs. However, saying words that folks don’t like does not make one a racist.
My issue with this situation that I am describing is multi-faceted. First, people were quick to talk about how it made them feel and that it was hurtful. Are you kidding me?! One jumbled up word on a broadcast that lasted all of, at most 3 seconds, had the power to make someone feel hurt! That just does not rise to a level of logic that we should accept.
Second; the “powers that be” quickly jumped on the surety that this man was a racist and should be fired. Hmmm…seems like they completely disregarded his body of work and took this one jumbled up word to completely define him. That is not fair nor is a standard that these folks who demanded his firing can rise to. We all are fallible and when we announce with such a righteous indignation how hurt we are over a non-issue, it reduces the credibility of the group (in this case African-Americans) and the individuals so deeply offended (in this case the mayor and others within the city).
Next; there is the concern that the racist term has been overly used. It is like the boy that cried wolf. He kept putting people on notice for a wolf and when nothing occurred, folks stop believing him and coming to his rescue. Then one day a real wolf came and he needed real help and no one was there to help because they no longer believed him. I do believe that racism still exists and we have racists within our country. However; I surely am not going to place that label on someone just because they jumbled their words.
There was no mercy shown to this man who clearly meant no harm and apologized when it came to his attention what he did. That is the best that we should expect. Receive that apology and move on. As stated above, none of us are perfect and therefore we all need grace and mercy to be extended to us. However, if we will not give it, why would we expect to receive it.
Lastly; the action that the news station took was extreme. They fired him without due process, without really determining his motive and without getting his side of the story. He was fired because the station has “no backbone” and bowed to political and societal pressure. I have enjoyed this news station since coming to this city. I would bypass all other stations to get my news report from this station. However; after they bowed to pressure instead of doing what is right, I have stopped watching them (and plan to continue to do so) until he is given his job back. I do not want to support a business that is more interested in bowing to what I considered a manufactured crisis than letting someone tell their side of the story and properly judge them on the body of their work and their service to the organization prior to the mistake.
Before destroying someone’s career with a label, 1) make sure that they are guilty of the “crime” and 2) extend the same level of grace that we want for ourselves.
Rev. Michael Vaughn currently serves as senior pastor at New Wineskin Church in Rochester. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)