Then there’s the racialization of crime. Sociologist Dennis Rome wrote that contemporary news media have given crime a “black face.”14 A common practice is using mugshots as feature images in articles about Black perpetrators of crime, but family photos when the perpetrator is white. Studies show that in high-profile cases involving Black offenders and white victims, Canadian newspapers suggested a link between Black criminality and immigration, stoking anti-Black and anti-immigration sentiment.15 It was also found that newspapers were more lenient with white offenders, attributing their behaviour to mental health issues and individualized rationalizations16—a luxury not given to racialized offenders.
Fighting against entrenched modes of operation is exhausting, as any journalist of colour will tell you. It doesn’t help that when we speak out against prejudice or racism, we risk losing our jobs. In this muzzling of what we know to be true for the sake of objectivity, to retain our jobs or to uphold a legacy of traditional journalism taught to us, we are asked to erase ourselves. We are asked to pick a side.
I often think about an event I attended in journalism school. Kathy Gannon, who was wounded while reporting from Afghanistan for Associated Press, was taking questions from the audience. A man went up to the microphone and asked her a question: “How do you go about managing your values in relation to the Afghan people?” When prompted, he elaborated, “Religious values.” I sat in that auditorium with clammy hands, glancing around the room to see if anyone else looked anxious. At that moment, a very clear distinction between “us” and “them” was made. I didn’t realize it at that time, but I’d be living in that distinction for the rest of my career. I remember wondering if I could be considered part of “us” because I was there as a journalist, or if I was part of “them,” discussing a country where the majority of people share my faith.
Journalism needs to change and adapt. It asks an impossible task of people of colour. It drives us away, to industries where we don't feel the need to justify what we know to be wrong and harmful to a democratic society. Where we don't have to hide. As long as this industry fails us, it fails to uphold its role as the fourth estate.
In Dhillon's piece, he poses a question: How many battles do you have in you?
The truth is, I wish I could say. But I don’t know how many I have left.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this essay in March, in what feels like a lifetime ago. When I was doing research, I found few public statements about racism and inequality in newsrooms across Canada. If I were to write this same essay today, I would not have the same problem. The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis put police brutality and anti-Black racism at centre stage, globally and nationally. From it stemmed important conversations about media organizations and how they are complicit in systemic racism. Journalists of colour, and especially Black and Indigenous journalists, have been fighting private battles in their newsrooms for years. Publicly, they were largely silenced, whether by employers, journalism’s gatekeepers or the traditions of this industry. When I wrote this piece, I had no idea what was to come. My hope is that this moment of reckoning produces lasting institutional change—because if these past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that these voices cannot be silenced any longer.
1 Azeezah Kanji, “Islamophobia in Canada” (Noor Cultural Centre, November 17, 2017), http://www.noorculturalcentre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Islamophobia-in-Canada-2017.pdf).
2 “Canadian Media Diversity: Calls to Action,” Canadian Journalists of Colour (CJOC, January 28, 2020), https://www.cjoc.net/white-paper).
3 Davide Mastracci, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Canadian Columnists,” Ryerson Review of Journalism, November 24, 2015, https://rrj.ca/the-unbearable-whiteness-of-canadian-columnists/).
4 “Diversity in Leadership and Media: A Multi-Perspective Analysis of the Greater Toronto Area, 2010,” 2010, https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/diversity/academic/Diversity in Leadership and Media_2011.pdf).
5 Asmaa Malik and Sonya Fatah, “Newsrooms Not Keeping up with Changing Demographics, Study Suggests,” The Conversation, January 28, 2020, https://theconversation.com/newsrooms-not-keeping-up-with-changing-demographics-study-suggests-125368).
6 People of Colour in Canada: Quick Take” (Catalyst, May 28, 2019), https://www.catalyst.org/research/people-of-colour-in-canada/).
7 Supra note 5.
8 Sunny Dhillon, “Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away,” Medium, October 29, 2018, https://level.medium.com/journalism-while-brown-and-when-to-walk-away-9333ef61de9a).
10 Scaachi Koul, “On Glibness And Diversity In Canadian Media,” BuzzFeed, May 12, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/scaachikoul/so-hows-that-whole-diversity-in-media-thing-going).
12 Azeezah Kanji, “Framing Muslims in the ‘War on Terror’: Representations of Ideological Violence by Muslim versus Non-Muslim Perpetrators in Canadian National News Media,” Religions 9, no. 9 (December 2018): p. 274, https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9090274).
14 “Visible Minorities in News Media,” MediaSmarts, August 22, 2014, https://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/visible-minorities/visible-minorities-news-media).
15 Yasmin Jiwani and Ahmed Al-Rawi, “Intersecting Violence: Representations of Somali Youth in the Canadian Press,” Journalism, January 23, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884919825503).