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Assistant Minister

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      I knew I shouldn’t do it. I knew it was a bad idea. I knew nothing good ever comes out of it, but I just couldn’t help myself. The local paper reported on our church naming 44 formerly enslaved people forced to work on our land. We announced the names during a worship service in May as a part of a larger Naming Project aimed at re-humanizing all the people whose sweat and blood were spilled on our land.

      A day later it was published. I went to The Advocate’s website and I read all of the comments. I came of age in the time of internet comments. I know that there is rarely anything redeeming in them, but even still, I couldn’t resist. And the commenters did not let me down (although, I suppose, by acting exactly as I expected them to, by being so demoralizing and dehumanizing, they did let me down). There were some people who acted decently. Some people stood up to the blatantly racist posts, but the overall feeling I was left with was one of despair.

      A few days later I had a unique opportunity. The Washington Post published an article similar to the one The Advocate printed. They shared the story of the 272 enslaved people the Jesuits sold to help fund their school, Georgetown University in Washington DC. Many of those people were sold to enslavers in Louisiana.

      Because I have a degree in psychology, I have a hard time passing up a chance to dabble in data analysis especially when it deals with people’s behaviors. So I came up with an admittedly subjective, and, at best, pseudoscientific criterion for comparison. I read the first hundred comments on both the local story and the national one (I didn’t have the emotional stamina to get beyond 100). For each of the comments I categorized them as: Racist, Anti-racist, or Non-racial. Any comment that seemed needlessly disparaging, demeaning, or dehumanizing based on race I categorized as racist. Any comment that openly supported the empowerment of people of color or directly contradicted the racist comments I categorized as anti-racist. And the comments that were not saying anything racially either way I characterized as non-racial.

      I was shocked by the results. The Advocate had 23 openly racist comments. There were 36 anti-racist comments and 35 non-racial comments. In contrast the Washington Post had 40 racist comments, 28 anti-racist comments, and 30 non-racial comments.

       I was surprised by three things. First, because the second article was in the more prestigious Washington Post, I expected a more civil discourse. I was surprised that the Post commenters weren’t any less racist than our local commenters. Second, I was surprised at how many people who read the Baton Rouge paper felt strongly enough to make comments that were openly anti-racist.

      Finally, I was surprised that my perception of the comments being all racist and negative was wrong. In fact, it was just one out of every four. It made me question how I perceive negativity and injustice in the world. How often have I ignored 75% of people doing something to bring about justice, or decency, or civility because I was fixated on the 25% who said or did something that bothered me? It is good for me to remember that sometimes I can be biased and blinded by a small percentage of negativity.