Well quite a bit has happened since my last blog. This month I had an article come out in Academic Questions. In that paper I did a critical analysis of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to illustrate one of the consequences of the political imbalance in academia – that progressive organizations generally do not have to undergo critical scrutiny from academics. I have published a little thought piece before in this journal and not much attention was paid to that article. I felt that the same thing would happen this time. I was wrong.
I was contacted by Austin Ruse who was guest hosting for the Sandy Rios Show and asked to do an interview on the article. I agreed and spent about 20 minutes last Thursday being interviewed by Mr. Ruse. I have been interviewed before and so I thought nothing of it when I then proceeded to work on my latest project. Evidently the interview had some impact. It was picked up by several conservative outlets and one of them made the article, which had been behind a pay window, available to the readers. I think that is where Media Matters (MM) found the article.
MM works pretty quickly. They put up a page refuting me the same day of the interview. But professors know that the first student to turn in a test often does not do the best work. Sadly, this is the case for MM. I debated whether I should spend my time showing the flaws in the MM presentation but what tipped the scales for me was that I discovered that several other progressive organizations also were taking the MM article and reprinting it word for word on their website. Evidently they decided to outsource their critical thinking. Given the quality of the MM review of my work, they should reconsider their choice of materials to showcase on their websites.
Okay there were four major points made about my critical review, and so let me deal with them with a 4 point response.
1. The first complaint is that my work is not a systematic study. I never said it was a study. I always represented this as critical analysis. It is in the spirit of the types of critical analyses we see all the time in Black Studies, Women Studies and Gay/Lesbian Studies programs. What I did was question the type of criteria used by SPLC that results in the designation of the Family Research Council as a hate group but not a progressive group, such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that used the same type of derogatory language . I suggest that the target of the group “hated” – homosexuals as opposed to conservative Christians was the best explanation for the different treatment. But I did not do a comprehensive study, and I even corrected Mr. Ruse on the air when he said it was a study.
To be fair, MM may have reacted to the titles of some of the conservative websites who used “study” in the title. I cringed a little when I saw that. But I do not have control over some of the titles of books I have written, over this recent article on Christianity Today (which I thought was a little too confrontational) and certainly not over other websites writing about my work. If MM is merely trying to clarify that this is not a formal study, given those titles, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but I clearly have not represented the work in this particular paper as a study.
2. But where I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt is their argument about black separatists. They point to the black separatist groups as evidence that non-conservative groups are held accountable. They make it sound as if I did not know this and did not put it in my article. Although I knew I put it in the article, I figured I must have just had it in a footnote. They may have missed that footnote which is unprofessional considering that they were critiquing the paper but an understandable mistake. Yet three times I mentioned black separatists in the article; twice in the main body of the text and once in the footnotes. If MM bothered to fully read the article there is no way they could have missed this fact. Instead they chose to write this response in a way to make it seem like I ignored the black separatists. That is more than unprofessional. That is deceitful.
So let us look at why the black separatist issue does not refute my basic premise that potential progressive hate groups are ignored by SPLC. If we take the SPLC center at its word, the only progressives, or perhaps more accurately nonconservatives, who may be involved in hate are blacks. So non-conservative ideology is sufficient for keeping whites from acting out in hate but not blacks. Really? Whenever we say that only blacks can do bad things, there is a word for that sort of sentiment- racism. Now I really do not think that SPLC is racist and I hate throwing around the racism card when it is not warranted. What I think happened is that members of the SPLC tend to be white progressives and they have a hard time envisioning people like themselves are capable of hatred. The black separatists are far enough away from them so that they can see them as a hate group but certainly not white progressives. That is why there are no mostly white progressive groups on their Hatewatch list. It is not due to the fact that there are no hateful white progressive groups (as I pointed out in the article), but it is due to the social position of the leaders of SPLC. But if they would like to reject my explanation and just say that it is racism then go ahead and have fun with that one.
3. The next complaint lodged at me is that I am not neutral. Guilty as charged. Guess what? The scholars MM cites are not neutral either. In fact if any graduate student in sociology after his/her first year in classes believes that scientists are completely objective then they have either not paid attention in their classes or have bad professors. Scientific objectivity is a myth. I do not think that I am any more biased than the average scientist but all scholars have been affected by social and personal biases.
But just when I think the MM may actually have a decent point, they have to try to prove the point with a “quote” from an interview I did for the Christian Post a year ago. Here is their quote “…he (that would be me) denounced what he called the often ‘downright hateful’ views of cultural progressives, asserting that many liberals’ views are ‘born out of fear and irrationality.’” I did not remember saying things quite that way, so I took the time to look up that quote. Here is what I really said in the context of the question asked of me.
CP: As you were doing this research, did you find yourself empathizing with cultural progressives at any point?
Yancey: Sometimes I was and sometimes I thought what they said was born out of fear and irrationality and was downright hateful. I understand some of their concerns and they’re acting out of some of the fears that they have developed.
Can you see the slight of hand? MM stated that I was arguing that many liberals’ view are downright hateful and born out of fear and irrationality when in fact what I said was that some of the statements of the respondents in my research were downright hateful, fearful and irrational. I am not a journalist but is this not what they call taking a comment out of context? I thought it was unethical to do that but I guess MM disagrees with me.
Now the author of the MM piece has no idea of what statements I was referring to. I am going to use some of them in a book I am working on that is currently under contact. But here are a few statements directed at the Christian Right that in my “non-neutral” opinion I consider hateful, fearful and/or irrational.
“I wish we could start feeding them to lions again, or burn them at the stake.”
“Line ‘em up and shoot ‘em.”
“They are well organized and highly motivated, kind of like a serial killer.”
“Kill them all, let their god sort them out.”
Nope, no hate there. Absolutely no irrational fear. I was just a biased scholar to read those comments and come to that conclusion. I am not a part of the Christian right but I am a Christian with a fairly conservative theology so maybe I am too biased to analyze that data. I also have Christian right friends and so maybe I need to apologize for not wanting them to be shot, eaten by a lion or referred to as a serial killer. By the way if you want to see a few more of these non-hateful comments then you can check out my YouTube video on bias in academia (From the 10:50 mark to the 12:00 mark).
4. Now as I stated before I have my biases. One of them is that hatred does not know political boundaries and I desire to see a society where there is less demonization in our speech no matter our political ideology. I do not believe, as it appears that SPLC and MM believe, that progressives are incapable of engaging in hate. But, I base my beliefs on more than hunches. I have conducted research showing that hostility towards conservative Christians is at least as high as it is towards Muslims and that progressives are more likely to have that animosity. I have also systematically documented the willingness of academics to discriminate against conservative Christians and the propensity of progressives to have dehumanizing attitudes towards Christians. My assertions are based on studying data.
On the other hand, MM made this statement. “There’s no objective metric by which he determines whether the SPLC goes too hard on conservative groups and too easy on leftist ones.” Remember SPLC has no mostly white progressive groups on their list. Zero. So there is no way to compare conservative groups to liberal groups. Essentially they are saying that there are no white progressive groups that have “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people.” It seems to me that if someone wants to make such a sweeping statement that they have the pressure to provide evidence that this is the case. I provided evidence in my article that at least one progressive group maligns a certain group of people.
I expect that some will challenge me in the comments of the blog and those who know me know that I will engage in dialog as long as it is respectful and fruitful. But I will ask you if you believe that white progressive groups that malign others do not exist. If you do have that belief then I will ask for evidence. I have shown you evidence for my belief so that you can see that my statements are not merely a feature of my bias and I have the right to ask the same of my detractors.
To be fair there is one card left for MM to play. It is this statement – “ Yancey also neglected to mention that FRC President Tony Perkins has spoken before the white supremacist Council of Concerned Citizens.” Anyone who studies race knows that the Council of Concerned Citizens is the continuation of the White citizens councils that buttress Jim Crow racism. I do not know the context of Perkins speaking at this group. Did he know what they were about (too many white conservatives would not recognize them)? Did he disavow them after finding out? I am a big believer in forgiveness as I mention in my blog about Martin Bashir. I would need to spend a little more time to study the issue before I come to a conclusion on it.
But for the sake of arguing let me assume the absolute worst of Perkins. Let us say he knew how racist there are and went there anyway. And let us say that he is unrepentant. Can we now say that we have a way to distinguish the FRC and the MRFF? Yes we can make that distinction. But what about the other groups such as Traditional Values Coalition, American Family Association and Liberty Counsel. Have their leaders spoken in front of supremacist groups? I suspect that the answer is no, revealing this argument is not about Perkins’ misguided speech but rather it is what I stated above – the inability of groups made up of white progressives to critique other white progressives. Unless all of the groups on the Hatewatch list are likewise connected to established supremacist groups, I have every right to see this last argument as nothing more than a distraction.
I am sure that there are a couple of minor points I am missing but this is getting too long as it is. I believe I have made my point on the inadequacy of the MM report. It would be nice if the owners of that website would order a retraction at least for neglecting to state that I talked about black separatist and/or for the taking of the quote out of context. But I am not holding my breath.