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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > Skeptical Inquirer March/April 2018 > Just Asking Questions

Just Asking Questions

Q: “I enjoyed your recent investigation into the 2016 Mall of America’s black Santa outrage, and I have a question regarding ‘asking questions.’ How do you tell the difference between someone with a genuine inquiry about something and an ideologue attempting to steer the debate in a specific direction?”

—Al C.

A: I received this query in response to my research into an ugly episode of racial hatred that tainted the 2016 holiday season. The Mall of America hired a jolly bearded man named Larry Jefferson as one of its Santas. Jefferson, a retired Army veteran, was the mall’s first African American Santa, and the local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, carried a story about it on December 1. Later that night an editorial page editor for the Tribune, Scott Gillespie, tweeted: “Looks like we had to turn comments off on story about Mall of America’s first black Santa. Merry Christmas everyone!”

Overnight and the next morning his tweet went viral and served as the basis for countless news stories with titles such as “Paper Forced to Close Comments On Mall Of America’s First Black Santa Thanks to Racism” (Jezebel); “Santa is WHITE. BOYCOTT Mall of America: Online Racists Are Having a Meltdown over Mall’s Black Santa” (RawStory); and “Racists Freak Out Over Black Santa At Mall Of America” (Huffington Post).

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The War on Science, Anti-Intellectualism, and ‘Alternative Ways of Knowing’ in 21st-Century America