Impact matters more than intention

Wow. These blog post comment threads at here and here about unintentional racial stereotypes is blowing up. Big. Time. [cf. summary]

I think that discussing highly-emotionally charged issues in an asynchronous public forum like the online blogosphere is mostly ineffective. One party describes the pain of the impact from the (alleged) offense, while the other party tries to describe the original intent, all sincere and good. To quote Sam Chand, “The difference between reality and expectation is conflict.” Both sides have unmet expectations. Both sides have different perceptions of reality. Conflict ensues. It’s more than misunderstanding.

I’ll confess that I’m rather new to the impact of public communications by influential leaders. I prefer a world of open book open source unfiltered communications, and am learning to filter and edit based on readers’ response. But realizing that words mean things, and sometimes words can be mean things to the listener even though the speaker didn’t intend it.

I’d be curious how other influential Asian American leaders like Eugene Cho, Dave Gibbons, Charles Lee, Ken Fong, would respond. My guess is that a direct conversation between Mike Foster and Soong-Chan Rah, in a safe private environment, will bring faster resolution than any further color commentary.

[update 11/4] Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite have issued a public statement that “some of our earlier messages … were mixed in with some defensiveness on our part. … we deeply regret anything we did to offend our Christian brothers and sisters in the Asian and Asian-American communities. … that is why are we reaching out this afternoon to hear the concerns and the best way to move forward together in a positive way that corrects past mistakes, respects individual viewpoints and, importantly, advances the ministry for everyone.”

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17 Responses

  1. daniel so says:

    DJ – Great insights, as always. I agree re: the ineffectiveness of many comment threads in discussing these kinds of issues. In this case, though, it seems like it was important for Mike, Jud & Zondervan to see that it wasn’t just one or two Asian American “troublemakers” but a wide variety of people who are opposed to their use of Asian stereotypes in the Deadly Viper material.

    I’m hoping for a quick, meaningful resolution as well. I believe a direct conversation between Mike and Professor Rah would go a long way toward that.

  2. Amy Moffitt says:

    Thanks DJ for posting this to Facebook, as well…

    I understand that this debate is painful and feels totally different for those who feel they have a dog in the fight, but I think this needed to happen.

    This book never should have made it off the presses. It’s clear to me from reading the various posts and blogs that this is a repeat offense, both from Zondervan and from this sector of Christian culture. If one assumes good intent on the part of all involved, then it is absolutely necessary to point out the offense repeatedly until it is clear the other side gets it. Otherwise, the name of Christ continues to be tainted by unwitting racism.

  3. Kyle Reed says:

    Totally agree with you on the proper forum.
    It just does not seem appropriate to have this type of discussion through a comment stream and then on by blog post. It seems like a much more private thing that needs to be reconciled between the two.
    It feels like it is turning into an “us verse them” thing and not a we thing.

  4. djchuang says:

    Kyle, while the discussion forum is not the best place to find resolution, it doesn’t seem to be a private matter, since this is an issue related to a public matter, that of a published book.

    From what I’ve read, constructive discussions are under way, so hopefully that means a meaningful resolution will be made. Until that time, I will be refraining from further commentary.

  5. Ken Fong says:

    fyi: this is what I just sent to Zondervan…

    Dear Jason:

    I’m sure you and the rest @ Zondervan have already been inundated with concerns and criticisms regarding your decision to use images from various Asian cultures as a way to frame a book about Christian character and integrity. I just want to add my voice to those you’ve already heard from. It’s hard enough to get secular media outlets to stop perpetuating harmful or disrespectful stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. But it is especially disturbing when a Christian company demonstrates profound ignorance of why this is damaging and sinful to segment of the population that I represent. When I was a trustee with IVCF, I was given an up-close view of how IVPress selected manuscripts, worked with authors, and even decided on cover art. So I know that the decision to use the authors’ previous framing device couldn’t have escaped this vetting process @ Zondervan. Assuming that I am correct about this, that’s why it’s all the more shocking that no one at your company was disturbed by this, that no one there knew enough either to remove all of these offensive references and allusions or to check with reliable Asian and Asian American Christian leaders first.

    The damage has clearly been done. You’ve spent money and the book is available for purchase. As of this writing, you may have already made a decision to remove it from stores and have issued a heart-felt apology. However, if you haven’t yet, if you’re still weighing how to respond to this backlash from significant parts of the Body of Christ, then you’re also sending a clear message. That you really aren’t convinced, as the authors now clearly are, that the artwork and conceptual framework of this book are blatantly offensive, or that Zondervan was completely wrong in signing off on it, or that the clearest and best course of action would be to remove it from the shelves. I hope by now that you and the other decision-makers at Zondervan have reached these conclusions and have begun to contribute to the emerging efforts of reconciliation and understanding.


    Rev. Dr. Ken Fong
    Senior Pastor
    Evergreen Baptist Church of LA, Rosemead

    My beef is not just with the authors’ but with the publishers. This must have survived their vetting process because they don’t get how things like this are blatantly offensive ripoffs.