An important clarification
In this discussion, the term “racist or hateful behavior” is intended to encompass all forms of behavior that are disrespectful or derogatory to any racial, ethnic, religious, sexual or other group.
I am using this term rather than “racist behavior” because Mr. Shull’s remarks have targeted many marginalized groups, not just people of color.
Commissioner Shull’s ask for evidence
Commissioner Shull has repeatedly demanded in meetings and in print that his detractors produce someone who will personally state that Mr. Shull treated them in a racist (or xenophobic, or homophobic) manner. For example, Oksana N. Bell posted material written for her by Shull on Facebook:
“The leftist Lost Souls Club that wants Mark out of office, accuse him of being a racist. Yet when asked to give an example they can not produce even one example of racism relating to Mark’s behavior… They accuse Mark of being a homophobe, yet they cannot produce even one person from the LGBTQ community who has had a bad experience with Mark.” (Bell, 2021)
He reiterated this ask in a Budget Committee hearing meeting on January 21, 2021.
Presumably, it is this ask that he was referring to when he demanded “empirical evidence” repeatedly from Commissioner Fischer in the March. 2 Clackamas County Commissioners policy meeting. (ClackCo TV, 2021)
SHULL: What empirical evidence do you have to support that allegation? Commissioner Fischer, the allegation of racism is a very serious one. And when I ask you for empirical evidence to support that accusation, and you refer back to general Facebook comments, I would ask you again to identify specific empirical evidence that would suggest that I’m a racist. I will ask you a third time to present to me empirical evidence that will substantiate another commissioner to accuse me of being a racist.
FISCHER: I’ll dialogue with you.
SHULL: I will have dialogue with you when you present empirical evidence to me to substantiate the allegation of racism.”
Empirical evidence is information acquired by observation, as opposed to anecdotal (personal stories) and logical (deductive) evidence. (Bradford, 2017)
The demand for personal stories is not a demand for empirical evidence. Personal stories are anecdotal evidence.
In addition, this ask is improbable and unnecessary. Obviously, the people who are documenting and critiquing Mr. Shull’s behavior are, for the most part, not personal acquaintances that have access to Mr. Shull’s circle of contacts.
What matters is whether we can document a pattern of racist or hateful behavior from Mr. Shull. In order to do this, both anecdotal and empirical evidence are appropriate.
Why the question is whether Mr. Shull shows racist or hateful behavior, not whether he is a racist
Calling someone hateful or a racist labels them with a character flaw. As a result, many of us are reluctant to label a person as a “racist,” preferring instead to say that we cannot know their exact motivation. But if we see racism/hatefulness instead as a behavior, we see things more accurately and are more open to change. (Kernahan, 2019)
In her 2018 book, White Fragility, the author and academic Robin DiAngelo argued that one of the functions of White privilege is to advance the myth that racism is an individual sin, as opposed to a collective indoctrination. It is crucial that we learn to conceptualize the opposite of racism and hate not as non-racist ideology, but as anti-racist/anti-hate actions and behaviors. (Korducki, 2020)
To become antiracist/anti-hate, we must understand and own the hateful ideas in which we have been socialized and the biases that these ideas have created within each of us. (Carter & Snyder, 2020) We must acknowledge that we all display racist or hateful behavior at times and that we must work to recognize and change these behaviors. As John Blake said, “Instead of ‘Am I racist?’ ask yourself: What am I doing to stop the racism I see in the world?” (Blake, 2020)
The question, then, is not whether Mr. Shull is a racist. It is whether he has displayed racist or hateful behavior, and, as a corollary, whether he has acknowledged his misbehavior or displayed any antiracist/anti-hate behavior.