This is a followup to writing about multi-ethnicity, race and culture and the culturally insensitive and offensive book, Deadly Viper. I’ve concluded that the only way to change that story is to boycott the book but even that is ineffective. And apparently the authors are “good guys” and they didn’t mean any harm. Okay. Beyond that, I’m going to continue to follow and cheer on, virtually, my (new) Asian American contacts, for they must continue to raise their concerns about WHY this is so inappropriate. If you want to do something, here’s the email for the appropriate person to contact at Zondervan, the VP of PR and Communication, Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com.
I keep reading on (mostly) from women blogging, and here, that aspects of Deadly Viper are offensive to women, to which I heave a sigh of frustration! I don’t want to read their silly book. I’m not ready to talk about my pain and concerns for Christian women in the church. And I do not look forward to writing this post which is essentially about PAIN! Yes, pain.
Before you, dear reader, get annoyed because we women are always offended, please understand how much I do not want to talk about this, knowing you think I should stop whining.
For me it starts with questioning why people, but Christians especially, cause one another pain so needlessly? And especially why do we cause pain for those that are different from us? Why are Christians so dogmatic, so closed-minded, so unwilling to change, so proud, and so damn selfish? This is a serious generalization, but I cannot stand the reputations that Christians have right now in the media and in any secular context. I cannot stand the way many, many Christians behave, it’s embarrassing! We, above all, as followers of Christ are instructed to love, as Jesus loved (Remember the poor, the meek, the widow, the prisoner.)
If a person is in pain, whose fault is it? I’m especially cognizant of this question because I have three kids very close in age and my husband and I are constantly being called upon to administer justice. (i.e. break up fights.) Is it: a) their own fault for being too sensitive or getting hurt? b) the fault of the person who caused the pain in the past so it’s pushing buttons and causing additional anguish, or c) the fault of the person who caused the pain this time?
I suspect though, as we try to figure out who did what to whom and why, that we are asking the wrong questions. Someone was hurt and pain occurred. Where do we go from here? How to make it right. How to create conversation and learn? These are the things I try to work through with my children and these are the things we should focus on now, as it relates to very difficult painful experiences.
Let’s be real. Racism exists. Homophobia is very real. And I can step up boldly to the mike and say: SEXISM IS REAL and alive, though I genuinely wish it were not so. And it causes minorities, gays and women pain, sometimes deeply, scarring because it is often repeatedly happening.
And yet we live with it. We learn to get along. Sometimes we even smile and act polite; we don’t want to offend. occasionally, we get angry. Women don’t want to be perceived as a bitch. Christians don’t want to be perceived a liberal. Many don’t want to be labeled a feminist. Hardly anyone is willing to, dare I say it, admit to being a person that loves gay people. And so we live with the pain of repeated offenses, getting along, and leaning on those who are the lightning rods for us, like Dr. Soong Chan Rah and Kathy Khang . I’m not so sure who other lightning rods are for women but I appreciated Julie Clawson on the topic this week.
So where do we go from here?
I haven’t been in the fray for a long time. And I haven’t missed it, not really. But allow me to tell you a true story, the short version of nearly ten years of my life. Every word is true although admittedly my perspective. I worked for many years for a para-church organization. I was lucky in that I was given tons of responsibility and opportunities for leadership. I was using my abilities, influencing, it was a good place. As fast as I could catch I was being thrown responsibility and I love it. I was Gen X right when Gen X was a hot topic and I was able to bring that to the organization’s communications efforts. admittedly, I was promoted quickly over just a few years.
Running parallel to this was a tension growing between myself and another leader. He was older (by two decades ), intellectual, theological, super influential and made a big splash all the time and he had made himself integral to all aspects of the organization.
I was an up and comer and although people liked my work, and my work ethic and my productivity, it wasn’t long before it was clear that we were competitors. There are more spiritual ways of saying it without sounding crass, but there’s only so much turf in a small organization and we both wanted it. Were fighting for it all the time. Oh, not to each others’ faces but in everything we did we were working toward taking charge of the area of communication. Trust me I was not a perfect leader by any means, but I would say probably my greatest vice (other than an insane desire to be perfect and in control of everything and working too hard) was working my staff too hard and not providing enough coaching. No one had ever coached me and I didn’t know how, but that’s another topic (throwing leaders into the fire without grooming them.) His vice? Temper temper. He threw a Bible at my friend in anger. He treated people (below him) horribly. Severe abuse which I would hear about and would bring up with my supervisor and it hit the President’s office and stayed there. They were buddies.
Being an emotional person, I cried floods of tears at home in bed to my husband and I prayed, but at work I tried to prove to everyone what I “just knew” — that I was supposed to be the one in charge. I was young, innovative, I was ‘the future.’ Meanwhile, I was also having babies while working full-time. I would have these meetings with my supervisor where I would try to make him understand how horrible it all was the infighting and how people were being treated and that people were leaving the organization because of this person, and as he said “We waded through blood together.”
Then one day he brought me into his office and he had a time line on the whiteboard. I kid you not, he had a time line for my life where I would finish out the current assignment, I would go be a mommy for a few years, and this person would have retired and then I would come back and rule! Once I got over the hurt, knowing that he was done advocating for me AND he was essentially telling me I had gone as far as I was going to there. So I finished the gig I had and quit. That was nine years ago and I haven’t gone back and they haven’t asked me. Draw your own conclusions.
AND SO I FOUND A PARTIAL COPY OF DEADLY VIPERS ONLINE.
I began to read. I first learned one of the authors owns a Media Firm (Yikes! What a revelation!) They need some sensitivity training. But I digress, sort of. I’d like to ask the authors of Deadly Vipers if they have daughters. Because if they do, how can they speak so diminutively about girls and women? Here’s an example:
“there’s little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We’re weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs.” DV, page 8
I have a daughter. I am a daughter and a woman and I must say I resent being used as an example of weak and pathetic, totally lacking in character and discipline and I do not want my daughter thinking that she is either. Even worse, would be my sons learning about “leadership” from macho, cool, trendy dewdes.
These guys are my worst nightmare. They even make fun of ugly people!! Yes, I mean nerds, geeks, “four eyes,” me. Yep guys, you’ve gone and made me mad. How can you use ugly people in such a way? So that did make me cringe and wonder at their sophomoric attempts at humor, and cool, and their strange lingo. But I stopped reading when I read the phrase: “We are asking you to go balls out with us.” mostly because I had to look it up. They can’t mean what I think they mean …? Go look for yourself, but I can tell you that you exclude women from your book at this point boys, as this is something that we just physically can’t do.
So forget about Deadly Vipers. I’m tired of that topic already and I don’t really want to beat up on these poor guys. They are just trying to be cool, and hip and relevant. Just trying is what they are doing, trying too hard.
I shall put my Communications hat on for a second and tell Zondervan and their PR people what I think.
1) Say you’re sorry and you messed up, when you’re sorry and you mess up. Just do it cause it will make you a stronger person. Humility is a part of integrity. Then, fix it.
Once I produced a poster for a convention featuring all sorts of images of people serving in different capacities. What I didn’t notice, nor did the graphic designer, or a whole slew of other people who saw the thing, that all of the servees were ethnic and/or darker skinned and the servers were lighter skin. The posters got a reaction from our multi-ethnic staff. I was crushed. But I had messed up. So, I pulled the posters and they were trashed. We quickly redid a promo poster and I can tell you that I will never forget that. Not because I messed up, but becuase I saw how you can do so and survive if your heart is remorseful and you are willing to change.
2) Change your infrastructure. You must have women and minorities at the table on all levels of your organization if you want to stop making these huge grotesque blunders. (Well they are huge and grotesque to me.) In the board room, in the leadership, in the communications team, as your artists and ideas people. I’m not an ethnic minority so I can’t speak to that, but there are people who consult on such things who could generally help the communications of an organization by having advice on the ways that you communicate and what you’re saying. I am a woman with a background in communications/marketing and I could easily look over anything quickly to tell you if it’s insulting to women.
3) If that seems too impossible a task (to hire us I mean) then get your organization some cultural sensitivity training. Again, tons of firms that could help both secular and Christian. Every person on staff should get such training.
And then tonight I read about Presidential hiring process at Wheaton College and to be honest I had no idea it had gotten to be so backward. One would assume that Wheaton would hire the best qualified person. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex is not only illegal, but morally wrong. I cannot believe that people feel they need to ask that some women and minority candidates be considered,but like Justice Sonia Sotomeyor said,
“if you are a white male who thinks that race and gender don’t matter, conjure up the image of a Supreme Court made up of all-hispanic and black women, and you will know how the rest of the US feels when faced by the prospect of an overwhelmingly white male Supreme Court.”
If women want an equal world, we have to work for it by accepting positions of authority and responsibility. Not by walking away from the fight, like I did. But I gave it everything and frankly almost lost my faith in the process. And so, I have to look forward to a day when men work side by side with women, people of every color and stripe, with joy and common purpose. That did not happen for me, but I speak out because I hope that things will be better for my sons and daughters, for my nieces and nephews who are all bi-racial or of a minority culture. It will be a better world for them. It just has to be.
Fundamentally, it is our hearts that give us up every time. And out of our hearts spew what we believe. It’s our hearts that need changing.
CS Lewis wrote: The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.
Enough for tonight.