Setting the Record Straight-Ingham County Commissioner Sounds off on Candidate Questionnaire
Ingham County Commissioner Derrell Slaughter-Courtesy Photo
Last week, the Lansing City Pulse published the results of a questionnaire that they developed to identify where candidates stood on a series of social justice and equity issues. Each candidate's answer was scored and tallied up and given an overall ranking on how progressive they are on social justice and equity issues. I was one of the candidates contacted to participate in this questionnaire and refused to. I chose not to participate because I found it to be incredibly hypocritical and problematic. The fact that they did not appear to consult with any Black people in the development of the questionnaire or the scoring of candidates' responses is downright disturbing. Instead, as stated in the article, it was created by one reporter who happens to be a white male. The absence of Black people in any part of the process instantly undercuts the ranking system's credibility and renders it mostly useless. It also leads me to ask this question: How can I, as a Black man who happens to be an elected official, take such a questionnaire seriously in good conscience? Instead, it functions merely as a great attention grabber during a time when we are all focused on social justice and equity issues.
An even more disturbing fact is that the publication does not currently have any Black reporters or editors on staff. This fact has manifested itself in several questionable stories and editorial choices made over the years. A recent example of their questionable decision making occurred last December. The publication ran a despicable story about an investigation, which ultimately didn’t lead anywhere, into Ingham County Community Health Centers' board of directors member Dan Ross's marijuana usage (See story here). Included in the story is a picture of Mr. Ross smoking what appears to be a blunt. Given the fact that this publication, historically, does not publish many stories about Black people, their decision to dedicate a whole article on this matter was offensive and helped perpetuate negative stereotypes about Black people. Even more damning was how hypocritical the story was. The Lansing City Pulse receives a significant amount of ad revenue from the marijuana industry. Yet, the publication felt that this investigation was "newsworthy" enough to publish a whole story. The lack of Black representation allows for tone-deaf stories like this one to surface to the forefront.
The cavalier manner in which this project was conducted represents a larger problem that is not just found within the Lansing City Pulse but in many institutions. There is an unspoken belief that you can bypass the hard work needed to create true representation by, for example, reading books on anti-racist behavior. As a result, these activities perpetuate a belief that one can become proficient enough to speak on behalf of Black people without directly engaging with Black people. Unfortunately, there are elements of this belief that exist in today’s progressive movement. This has led some folks to self-appoint themselves to ally ship without ever officially being asked to do so. Well, let me make this as clear as possible: there is no amount of books, movies, tv shows, or webinars that can ever substitute the real lived experiences of Black people. The hard work of creating authentic representation needs to happen and it starts with intentionally incorporating the very people you seek to help in every aspect. This should have occurred with this project.
So, before the Lansing City Pulse can ask me to fill out another Social Justice and Equity questionnaire or any other questionnaire, they will need to do more to address their representation issue. Instead, I encourage people to support local Black publications like The Chronicle News, The New Citizens Press , and The Michigan Bulletin through your ad dollars and readership. If there are other Black-owned and run news publications, please post them as a comment.