Impact Matters More Than Intent by Sam Waters

Impact Over Intent | Guest Blog by Sam Waters

There’s been a lot of discussion about last week’s incident with the local meteorologist at WHEC, his on-air comment, and subsequent firing, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. What I keep coming back to is something I routinely find to be a core concept – impact matters more than intent. It makes absolutely no difference if it was a mistake! A racial slur was said and people of color were hurt. 

If you step on someone’s foot, you apologize. It doesn’t matter if you intended to step on that person’s foot, you still hurt them. You *definitely* don’t say “I’m sorry your foot was in my way* or spend time defending why you had to put your foot in that exact spot, or analyzing whether it was just a toe or a bone-crunching stomp. You hurt someone, you apologize. The impact matters more than the intent.

Can you imagine how different this would have been if, at the end of the broadcast, he’d apologized? He didn’t, though. He didn’t care that he hurt people, because he would have apologized without prompting.  WHEC didn’t seem to think it was a problem either, until there was a public outcry.  If no one in the entire newsroom recognized that word as a problem, and it took days for the company to apologize, what does that say about WHEC in general? I can only think of two possibilities – woefully ignorant to the point that they shouldn’t be a place we look to for information; or unconcerned about a racial slur being broadcast on their news show. It also suggests that either there aren’t any people of color involved in the production of this news cast (because they would have definitely recognized this as a problem), or they are too fearful of the consequences of speaking up to point out a problem. Again, both of these options do no speak well of WHEC, and makes me question their ability to provide fair stories for the entire community

Now there are thousands of people who care more about this man’s intent,  rather than the pain he caused.  This is what white supremacy looks like – caring more about the white man having to face the consequences of his actions than the black people who were wounded. It’s disgusting, and I find this response by our community disgraceful, if not surprising.  If you care that people were hurt by this, you don’t try and defend his actions. If you didn’t know people were hurt, you should be asking yourself *why* you didn’t know, and what else exists outside your awareness.   If you don’t care about the hurt this caused, this might be a good idea to examine your values.   


Impact over intent, always.

Additional Reading

  1. What did that meteorologist say that got him fired? Listen to Jeremy KappellDemocrat & Chronicle 

  2. New York meteorologist fired after using racial slur on air : CNN

  3. ‘OMG I Didn’t Mean It Like That!’: Intent vs. Impact, Which Matters? : Only Black Girl 

  4. What Does White Supremacy Look Like : 540WMain 

Source: (opening image) Only Black Girl 

About Sam Waters 

Sam Waters is an IT pro and activist who moved to the Rochester area in 1999 to battle the imminent Y2K crisis.  He has been active in LGBT and anti-racism issues for many years, and is currently a member of the Steering Committee for Showing Up for Racial Justice – Rochester (SURJ ROC).  He works at RIT, shares his home with his amazing wife, three wild little dogs and two far more dignified cats, and spends his free time solving puzzles, arguing online, and trying to catch up on his ever growing reading list.

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