The talk

On January 18, 2021 Mark Shull spoke at a very carefully-curated event sponsored by the Muslim Educational Trust (MET.) At this event, Mr. Shull read a prepared speech. This speech minimized the impact of his Facebook posts and attempted to shift the blame to the person who released them. As Mr. Shull stated, “Last Monday morning an email came to my Clackamas County Commissioner office that contained screen shots of comments, many taken completely out of context of the discussion, that were attributed to me. After looking through them, I recognized a couple comments and realized that the email was most likely intended to cause a public media storm with the intent to cause my resignation But much more importantly I realized that the email would cause sincere concern to the public and hurt to the Muslim community.” He also again attempted to pass his comments off as being related to “agents of conflict,” stating “My frame of mind was national defense.”

When asked some questions by the audience that required him deviating from his prepared remarks, he seemed nervous and wooden, stumbling over his responses. In particular, one participant asked him about Black Lives Matter. Below is a transcript. The highlighted portions are discussed in the next section.

[SHULL] It has just come to my attention that during the course of the last week, members of the Black community feel that I have said something to offend them. And I want to make it very clear that those allegations, wherever they came from, are not true. My relationship with our Black brothers and sisters has always been positive. I’ve always had many friends who were Black; they bring a beautiful culture, beautiful attitude. I’ve always enjoyed my Black friends. I never in my life had a situation from Black American or Black anywhere in the world [undecipherable.] I don’t know anyone in Oregon or the United States or anywhere in the world where I have traveled who would say to you that they had an incident with Mark Shull that they would consider [undecipherable.]  So for all the Black people  [undecipherable- fine?] Americans in our state, nation, I want to make sure you realize that I  [undecipherable.] Don’t look at [undecipherable- trouble?] Do not. You’re Americans, Canadians, whatever. So please make sure that this idea that’s going around that I said something to offend our Black citizens is absolutely untrue. 

[SHULL]  Also, may I add that I also never recall having any problem about a new immigrant. [undecipherable.] So, again, I don’t think there’s anybody out there who could say that they, their interaction with me was disrespectful. I hope that clarifies the new immigrant issue and [undecipherable] on our Black community.

[Offscreen voice] [Undecipherable] Black Lives Matter? [Undecipherable.]

[SHULL]  All lives matter. Black lives, white lives. All God’s creation. (Muslim Educational Trust, 2021)

An analysis of Mark Shull’s words

members of the Black community feel that I have said something to offend them. And I want to make it very clear that those allegations, wherever they came from, are not true.

This superior, “I know better” attitude denies the very real feelings that members of the community have and reduces their concerns to “allegations” and “untruths.”

our Black brothers and sisters

Using these nicknames is problematic. If the perpetrator doesn’t give everyone these nicknames, either statement claims kinship that probably isn’t there. Rev. Shannon Craigo-Snell, a professor of theology at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky stated, “It’s claiming familiarity and intimacy,” she added. “And often when I see this happen, it’s actually in a situation where the white person is trying to gloss over real hierarchy of status or conflict.”

The person may also be unconsciously overcompensating when trying to make a connection by assuming that’s how black people talk. (CNN Wire, 2020)

I’ve always had many friends who were Black

“If you’ve ever said, ‘I’m not racist! I have Black friends,’ you might need to rethink what it means to be a friend.” So wrote Leenika Belfield-Martin in her insightful discussion of why “I have Black friends” is a problematic phrase.(Belfield-Martin, 2020)

The majority of people who hold racist beliefs say they have an African American friend. (Tesler, 2019) As John Eligon wrote, “some of my best friends are black… has become shorthand for weak denials of bigotry — a punch line about the absence of thoughtfulness and rigor in our conversations about racism.” (Eligon, 2019)

I don’t know anyone in Oregon or the United States or anywhere in the world where I have traveled who would say to you that they had an incident with Mark Shull that they would consider …

As we discussed earlier, Mr. Shull seems to have mentally walled off his behavior on Facebook as irrelevant. Instead, he insists we provide real-life examples of where he has acted in a racist manner to anyone. The truth is that his Facebook posts are sufficient evidence of racist or hateful behavior and harm.

So please make sure that this idea that’s going around that I said something to offend our Black citizens is absolutely untrue. 

Again, it is “our Black citizens” who should be the judge of whether or not they are offended. Mr. Shull does not have the right to make this judgment for them.

I also never recall having any problem about a new immigrant.

Mr. Shull is very careful not to mention the statements that he has made about undocumented immigrants, who are also human beings.

All lives matter

“All lives matter” has become a coded response for denigration of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Jason Reynolds said, “My life matters. And if you say, ‘No, all lives matter,’ what I would say is I believe that you believe all lives matter. But because I live the life that I live, I am certain that in this country, all lives [don’t] matter. I know for a fact that, based on the numbers, my life hasn’t mattered; that black women’s lives definitely haven’t mattered, that black trans people’s lives haven’t mattered, that black gay people’s lives haven’t mattered… that immigrants’ lives don’t matter, that Muslims’ lives don’t matter. The Indigenous people of this country’s lives have never mattered. I mean, we could go on and on and on. So, when we say ‘all lives,’ are we talking about White lives? And if so, then let’s just say that. ‘Cause it’s coded language.” (Capatides, 2020)

The post-talk response

On Thursday, January 21, a statement from Mr. Shull about his meeting with MET (previously read at the Board of County Commissioners meeting that morning) was forwarded to all county employees. In this statement, Mr. Shull claimed that he “met with the Muslim leadership” and wrote “The Muslim community believes that the Koran and its provisions for Sharia law is the only way that good government can be achieved. I believe in controlled immigration and controlled borders. The Muslim leadership believes that national borders are wrong and that open borders should be implemented.”

This statement showed clearly that his session with MET had done little to change his underlying racist or hateful behavior. To claim that his interactions with a handful of people represented the entire “Muslim leadership” or “Muslim community” was extremely short-sighted, especially as many members of the community had stated clearly that they did not agree with the leadership of MET. This clip from Dan Haggerty at KGW communicates the absurdity of these statements very clearly. (KGW News, 2021)