By Linda S. Wallace
Years ago, I was riding in a car with a real estate agent, taking a tour of neighborhoods in Northeast Philadelphia.
As a real estate reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I tried to visit new neighborhoods and meet people in the communities where they lived.
The real estate agent, who was white, showed me around the area, raving about the strong housing demand, cleanliness and great schools. As we drove along, I noticed that the view from my window changed: more Black and Brown people were walking the streets around us. The housing was a bit modest and there were fewer retail centers.
The agent turned to me and said, “This neighborhood is not safe. I wouldn’t want to live here.”
I asked: “Do you sell homes in this neighborhood as well?”
No, he said.
“Oh, then you know people who live here?”
Again, he answered no.
So – ever so politely – I asked, “Where did you get your information from? Who is your source?”
Shocked, the agent said nothing.
After a few moments of pronounced silence, I spoke: “It does not appear that you are an expert on this neighborhood, so I’ll have to find someone else to quote in my story.”
Years later, as I held cultural competency workshops for journalists, I shared this story as a cautionary tale.
How often do journalists pass along things that they are told without challenging them? We sometimes present racist, biased and/or made-up stuff as fact. And before you know it, the Year 2020 has arrived with falsehoods spreading out of control like the wildfires out West.
If we want to have meaningful political conversations, then everyone needs to come prepared to back up their opinions with research, reliable data or indisputable proof.
Now that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris have been declared winners of the 2020 presidential election, we have a lot to discuss. Some topics may be painful.
It is important that we support each other by asking that we all be at our best.
When someone tells us this election was stolen from President Trump, we say: “Where did you get your information from? Who is your source?”
We ask for concrete evidence, examples that we might check out and for the stories of real-life voters. We want to know more. We are not trying to shut down the dialogue.
If someone tells us all Trump supporters are racist and aren’t worth talking with, we respond, “Where did you get your information from? Who is your source?”
Again, ask for concrete evidence, examples that we might check out and stories of real people. (We would need to check out the stories of all 70 million people voting for Trump to prove they are all racists. If you can’t do that, then be quiet.)
The days ahead won’t be easy. We are a nation in celebration and mourning in the same moment of time.
Some now will grieve the election results. They will do so as grieving continues throughout the nation for loved ones lost to COVID-19 and with so many reeling from the loss of a job or a home. Let’s not let falsehoods pull us further apart and keep us from solving the serious challenges ahead.
(Linda S. Wallace is a freelance journalist and communication specialist who helps clients develop cross-cultural messages for the workplace and the media. Readers are invited to submit questions on work or personal problems related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical differences. Address your questions to: [email protected].)