University of Missouri’s Athletic Department tried to promote diversity but sparked dissent with mishandled taglines. Meaning matters. Think critically, fact check and seek a second opinion before posting on social media.
The intent of the tweet was proactive, celebrating diversity by promoting aspirations of athletes. It had the opposite effect.
Included in the photo above were track athlete Arielle Mack, depicted with the slogan “I am an African American woman.” Ticket office employee Chad Jones-Hicks appeared above the statement, “I value equality.” The tagline for white gymnast Chelsey Christensen read “I am a future doctor”; the one for swimmer C.J. Kovac, proclaimed, “I am a future corporate financer (sic).”
The misspelling of “financier” indicates lack of fact-checking. Had someone analyzed each word of the post, perhaps disparities could have been avoided. To be sure, Mack and Jones-Hicks have aspirations on par with Christensen and Kovac, but instead the emphasis there was on race.
Anything on internet can go viral, undermining intent and tainting an organization’s reputation. Clearly, Mizzou Athletics wanted to celebrate diversity and never meant the post to be misinterpreted.
According to the Washington Post, the tweet was based on a video containing this quote from Mack: “I am an African American woman, a sister, a daughter, a volunteer and a future physical therapist.” The tagline, of course, should have been “future physical therapist.”
The Athletic Department apologized for the tweet with another tweet containing a video upon which the errant post was based:
The video, a professional product, has much to commend it. However, the stereotypical tweet undermined that effort.
Perhaps one errant tagline could be forgiven; but in this case, there were three.
In the above video, Sprinter Caulin Graves said, “I am a brother, uncle and best of all, I am a leader [emphasis added].” Here is how he was depicted:
There is little excuse here in the depiction of African American athletes. But there are remedies. Vincent Filak, who covered the Missouri tweets in the Dynamics of Writing website, has these recommendations:
- Scrutinize each word of any post to guard against stereotypes.
- Ask for a second opinion if you unsure that you are disparaging anyone.
- Run the content by a source included in the content for his or her opinion.
- Talk to an expert who may have insight or advice on inclusion.
Filak adds, “Even if your newsroom, your PR firm or your ad agency doesn’t have a cornucopia of diversity, you can still avoid dumb mistakes by asking for help.”
Living Media Ethics has a chapter on bias in addition to sections on equity and inclusion associated with fairness, social justice and value systems. When it comes to social media posts about diversity, take time, fact check and think critically … or risk being the target of criticism.