By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
“Hate speeches are swirling around
Our azure and transparent sky
Suffocating the people of this planet
Like a strangled man in the terrible scaffold.
Venom that comes out of your tongue
Directly points its sharp arrow
Towards the bosom of your brothers,
You will derive nothing out of it
Except some malicious sadistic pleasure.
Shower love and affection for your brothers
That will be like a profitable deposit
Accruing a handsome reward in moments of dire need
Hatred causes tears and severe pain
In minds of thousand innocent people
Love makes others laugh
Proclaiming its glory to the people of this planet
And people enjoy much yearning delight
During the moments of disdainful plight.”
By Shakil Ahmed, Assistant Professor of English, A.L.C. College, Hailakandi, Assam, India
As an editor, I get the great privilege of being a traffic cop for thought and lack thereof. As a proponent of free speech, I get no pleasure in suppressing anyone’s editorial comment. As I have mentioned before, we have an ethics policy, one not of our own making. It is a guide in law to remove organizational biases. We also have an Editorial Board who sets policies in place to help me the words of staff members, appointees, members of the community and readership so that my personal biases are also checked. We filter only when the words are socially offense, maliciously attacking the character of an individual, or known to be false.
We take pains to make sure reporting is accurate and substantiated, mostly relying on government sources like police and other emergency services, and governmental authorities from print documentation or video and audio transcription.
There were times in the history of the One Feather that governmental control was prevalent and unhidden. The government even seemed proud of the fact that they controlled the content of the paper and attempted to craft it into a propaganda piece that would tell only the part of history that was flattering to the people and made government officials look good. Slowly and steadily, the staff of the One Feather and the community at large have pushed for something more. Those who control the media in a society also control access to needed information. In the wrong hands, a newspaper or other media source can be used to misinform and manipulate the public. Sometimes, misinformation is deliberate, an attempt to guide popular opinion into a direction that is unnatural for personal gain. Other times information is manipulated unintentionally, because of fear or ignorance. Throughout the years, the One Feather has experienced a little of all the above.
Journalists are not out to deceive. They are not out to manipulate. They are here to document. Their passion is to report history in the making. Their contribution to the community is passing along information that will help and sometimes heal a community. Part of the directive by those who created the Cherokee One Feather in tribal government wrote into the law the following, “It shall be the policy of the Cherokee One Feather to publish news articles and other materials and information judged by the editorial staff to have general value to the Cherokee community.”
Part of the other materials and information that we judge of general value to the Cherokee community are the forums of editorial, letters to the editor, and commentary. This includes content on our various electronic offerings, like our website and social media page. For this material, there is a different standard because editorial content is not so much about fact as it about feeling. Commentary is an expression of opinion, and the truth is based on personal experience. We have used the phrase in the past “situational truth”. You may have a different opinion about a “fact” than I do based on your upbringing, education, experience, and emotional state. We may both be right. We may both be wrong. Because opinion necessarily must be left to the holder of the belief. The truth may change based on the amount of information that is shared. It might vary based on the level of trust or distrust you have in the source of the information or opinion.
I have had the privilege to write opinion pieces for you for several years now. At first, I was clumsy with my wording and timid with my communication. That was due in part to my inexperience and because of my awareness of a tendency toward censorship in the chain of command above me. Some of that manipulation was subtle, and some came by a blatant directive. The path to the amount of freedom of speech the community has today has been a slow and steady march. When I transferred to the One Feather, editorial comment had not been produced in many months, and opinion was heavily monitored by the administration. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t direct involvement from the elected officials of the government, but levels of the chain of command would routinely give direction on what words could be used and what should appear in photographs used in the newspaper, even to the extreme of editing commentary to make a person’s opinion more palatable. There were significant efforts to fashion the One Feather into a tribal newsletter, providing filtered (and therefore inaccurate) history, sifting out the “negative” so that only the “happy” was publicized.
Speaking of negative, we are seeing several posts by individuals who seem not to be able to communicate without using foul language, racial slurs, bullying, character attacks, and hate speech. Most of these posts emanate from commenters that either cannot pose or defend a legitimate position or have some agenda that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. We have tagged comments under our posts that add no substantive contribution to the discussion of the issue and indeed seems to be inserted as some political propaganda. As much as we want to provide a free and open forum for our community to voice their opinions to each other, it is wrong to use this forum, whether print or digital, to expose the community to inappropriate language, hate speech, and unbridled special interest dialogue.
The federal definition of hate speech is “speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity”. I am not sure we have ever identified what we, as Cherokee people, have ever defined hate speech. Our ancestors probably never contemplated a day when we would be spewing hatred at each other like we do today. Sadly, our vitriol usually begins with the statement, “Now, you’re my people, and I love you but,” and then we add, “you are stupid, evil, or criminal.” We think that saying we love them somehow makes verbally tearing them apart ok.
Indeed, actions matter and if someone is a bad actor, that should be brought to light, but just saying someone is “bad” or “wrong” without any supporting evidence is not appropriate and potentially defamatory. Unsupported, unverified personal attacks are not helpful to the community and are a violation of our ethics as journalists. So, when you see comments that fit into that category, and they suddenly disappear, please know that it was removed with the community in mind, not our personal preferences. We are better than some of the comments that we make, so let’s strive to build and not tear down.