Davide Mastracci
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BuzzFeed’s search for marginalized writers is progressive, not racist

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White men effectively control Canadian journalism. But recent events have shown that’s not enough: any challenge to their dominance must be condemned.

On February 18, BuzzFeed senior writer Scaachi Koul tweeted a call for longform writers, particularly those who aren’t white or male. This was a commendable step toward breaking down barriers preventing people from entering, and then overhauling, the white journalism enclave.

Unsurprisingly, those who benefit from the status quo reacted swiftly and with venom. Koul was continuously harassed as news of her effort to make newsrooms look a little less like a country club spread through social media, Reddit and right-wing blogs. The backlash wasn’t limited to egg avatars, either—prominent figures at bastions of privilege jumped in as well.

On Saturday night, Koul deleted or deactivated her Twitter account. Koul, a woman of colour who writes critically about racism and sexism, was forced off social media for giving an ear to those who often go unheard. This should disturb any journalist, regardless of whether or not Koul returns to Twitter.

But the implications of the incident go beyond Koul, perfectly encapsulating a dangerous deficiency in understandings of racism.

Koul’s call for non-white writers and her characteristically snarky tweets that followed were instantly deemed blatantly racist. Meanwhile, Canadian journalism is almost entirely white-owned. Leading editors across the country are overwhelmingly white, as are staff lists—including columnists, who help craft national conversation. For decades, people of colour have been telling stories about how they feel boxed-out of the industry or harassed if they attempt to carve out a spot for themselves.

And yet the reaction to these facts and countless lived experiences is always something like, “There isn’t a problem. No one is barred from applying for any job. Journalism is merit-based. People of colour just aren’t doing enough to get into the industry.”

The logical deficiency here is that the general public, as well as many journalists, conceive of racism solely as something explicit and direct. So, Koul encouraging non-white writers to pitch to BuzzFeed gets read as a segregation-era-style job ad. Meanwhile, the shameful state of Canadian journalism is portrayed as the product of an ideal meritocracy or just merely a coincidence, as if it fell into place by chance.

Koul’s post, of course, is not racist, or illegal.

Yet this doesn’t matter for the online mob who feel challenged by Koul’s search for writers. If these people fought actual racism even a fraction of how much they complain about “reverse racism,” there’d be substantial change.

But, as the harassment Koul faces illustrates, those who benefit from the current system don’t actually want change. BuzzFeed focusing on writers of colour would mean a white writer may miss out on “his” job.

Nevermind the fact that BuzzFeed’s hiring is an iota of the overall Canadian market, where white writers are still disproportionately employed. A white man would still miss out on an opportunity, and that is unacceptable in their eyes.

This is exactly why people need to call bullshit on the countless editors and journalists who agree there is a problem, spout off about how lovely a more diverse journalism landscape would be and then do absolutely nothing to make it happen.

Changing the face of journalism means actually shifting where the money goes and who gets to decide its destination. Those unwilling to accept that don’t actually want change, and it’s time to stop relying on them to lead the way.

15 Responses to BuzzFeed’s search for marginalized writers is progressive, not racist

  1. Jeff S. February 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    You’re missing the point. As a white male journalist (full disclosure), I’m actually all for POC to be reached out to. It’s ridiculous to see essentially just me everywhere in Canadian media.

    However, she’s not aiming to include people. She’s aiming to exclude. She unnecessarily attacks white people all the time. It’s in terrible tweets, it’s in her terrible work. But let’s just focus on what she wrote versus her backstory.

    Of course, you didn’t include these tweets because it wouldn’t fit your narrative.

    “@BuzzFeedCanada would particularly like to hear from you if you are not white and not male.”

    “IF YOU’RE A WHITE MAN UPSET THAT WE ARE LOOKING MOSTLY FOR NON-WHITE NON-MEN

    I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU

    GO WRITE FOR MACLEAN’S”

    “.@danspeerin White men are still permitted to pitch, I will read it, I will consider it. I’m just less interested because, ugh, men.”

    “HA HA ANYWAY BAN MEN LITERALLY THROW THEM ALL IN THE GARBAGE”

    I get that the last tweet is her standard I’m-a-millennial-this-is-new-journalism-and-I-can-be-inappropriately-sarcastic self, but the rest are so obviously wrong. Her “interested” tweet directly tells me my work will not be taken seriously.

    That’s the problem.

    To summarize:

    Reaching out to POC, exploring ways for their voices to be heard = good.
    Telling any group of people their work is not valued = bad.

    Reply
    • Alex February 21, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      It’s amazing how nearly everyone standing up for Scaachi is ignoring this. The message can be a good one, even a vital one — but if the person delivering it is nasty, condescending and yeah — I’ll say it — often racist, it taints the whole thing. Of course many of the critics are racist, sexist morons, but not all of them. And I also know there are many others, white, male and otherwise, who feel offended by Scaachi’s words and prior work, but who aren’t piping up publicly because they will be attacked, named shamed etc. by her online defenders.

      She’s probably one of the most polarizing people in Canadian media since Ezra Levant. She’s whip-smart and knows this, and uses it to her advantage. I sincerely hope she didn’t quit twitter out of fear or being bullied. It seems no one actually knows for sure. Maybe, to be cynical, she left because she knew her absence would create a rallying cry better than any of her caustic retorts. Millennials are the masters of this social media space after all.

      Reply
    • Vanitas February 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Why do only White countries need to be “diversified”? Would you complain about the lack of Whites on Japanese or Nigerian television?

      Reply
  2. Alex February 21, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    “Koul was continuously harassed as news of her effort to make newsrooms look a little less like a country club spread through social media, Reddit and right-wing blogs.”

    At what point is it harassment? Some comments were clearly nasty, but I would argue Scaachi’s tone is often nasty, sneering, sarcastic as well.

    Many were just critical. Whether you agree with Scott Gilmore or not, it would be hard to see his couple of tweets as harassing in nature.

    I know this is an ongoing debate, and a recent trial in Ontario that acquitted a man of online harassment upset many. I’m just wondering if you could clarify what you feel constitutes harassment in this case.

    I’m also wondering if you (or anyone) has first-hand knowledge of why Scaachi deleted her profile. It seems to follow from this mini brou-haha, but she has faced backlash before and always stuck around. Everyone seems to be making a lot of assumptions on this.

    Reply
  3. Kieran D February 21, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Scaachi is/was one of the most obnoxious tweeters online. I made a comment (not even slightly a bad comment, just an observation about how one passage in her name piece confused me aurally) and she tweeted at me telling me that she didn’t care about my opinion. What I’m saying is that she gave a lot and it seems like it needs to be justified that she took it in excess. And any discussion of the treatment she received should by necessity include discussion of the treatment she gave everyone else…which will create a visibly different picture of this latest imbroglio.

    In any event, some time away from Twitter would probably be best for her and Twitter in general.

    Reply
  4. John February 21, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    “Koul, a woman of colour who writes critically about racism and sexism, was forced off social media for giving an ear to those who often go unheard.”

    What a totally disingenuous twist on why she received so much backlash. The vast majority of people in Canada have no problem with adding diversity to newsrooms, but they also don’t tolerate overt hostility towards a group of people. I am completely confident that if Scaachi had posted something like “we’ve had many submissions already, but now we’re looking for people from diverse backgrounds to round out our coverage,” she would not have caused this mess.

    But no, instead, she sent off all sorts of bigoted sounding tweets (which of course you didn’t include here) that talked about how “men are garbage,” that white people are “pale demons,” and that “doesn’t care” about how this bothers white men. Everyone with a brain knows perfectly well that saying things like that would be simply unacceptable if directly towards literally any other group. It’s amazing that someone like her can spend so much of their time taking offence to things, and then act with such bewilderment when other people are offended by what SHE says.

    Reply
  5. Cameron February 21, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    “Clearly harrassment is bad, but gosh she was askingfor it.”…

    Hell is fellow white people.

    Reply
  6. James February 21, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Totally missing the mark on this, and selectively reporting no less.

    Scaachi wasn’t harassed off Twitter for reaching out to POC, which would have been a commendable act. She specifically, verbatim told white men their contributions wouldn’t be valued. Had she left out the misandrist, racist snark, this would have been a non-story. Unfortunately, this is consistent throughout her material.

    How this somehow translates into progressive thought is beyond my reach. Inclusivity doesn’t have to be at the explicit expense of any one group. Imagine calling for fitness writers by asking for “non-cripples” — it’s totally unnecessary and unbecoming of her employer.

    Reply
  7. Dylan February 21, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    When you said Koul “was forced off social media” did you mean she chose to leave to avoid to the harassment? Or did her company ask her to leave? It reads like the latter.

    Reply
  8. Kelv February 21, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    People don’t seem to understand what racism is. Being a person of an ethnic minority myself, I would not want the next generation to assume that racism towards white people or sexism is okay. Yes she is fighting for diversity and wants to hire writers from different background, but there is no need to blatantly state this because you have convinced yourself that your views is correct and is progressive and what is worse you are trying to normalise that this sort of message on twitter is acceptable. All her artricles regarding Men and White people have been condescending and its going on for far too long. This sort of open racism is far more damaging than people realise. I’m not about to let my kids be taught that racism towards white people is okay, and why are we perpetuating this sort of behavior? Shame to all the other journalist who backs this and shame too all the ethnic minority who think this is okay. If you are an ethnic minority and you have become racist or sexist – check your bloody privilege. Stop the racism now – regardless if its towards Black, White, Arab, Asian. If you won’t write “No Black Male” and deem it offensive, dont write “No White Male” its not hard – are u guys stupid? Koul been brainwashed and people need to stop supporting this sort of views before another generation of racial hate continues and the entire civil rights movement will all be for nothing.

    Reply
  9. Hector February 21, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    This story like the Huffington Post is telling what it wants its narrative to be. You’re leaving out her baiting, vile posts that she posted were written to get a reaction out of people. That her editor is trying to play this off as semantics is insulting, disrespectful and just as unprofessional. No one has a problem with her seeking out diverse voices, it’s how she presented herself after the first post.

    This isn’t progressive, this is letting a woman with too much power and too little maturity rule the coup no matter the decisions. If you have to defend something from being not illegal but still pretty unethical and only tell what you want, then you’re no better. What a shameful way of exploiting this and making it seem this is a random hit piece on her. She conducted herself so poorly and while racist and equally venomous comments towards her took it too far, her conduct absolutely should be questioned. She’s her own worst enemy and this backfired. Lost among the obnoxious remarks between her and her posters are legitimate questions about her professionalism and the double standard of their future hiring prospects. Don’t tell me it’s a non-issue because you technically weren’t hiring or didn’t specifically word it one way or the other. This is an issue you can’t back peddle and squirm your way out of, which is being exhibited here. Instead of an apology or stand by either side, it automatically becomes a poor Scaahi story. Embarrassing for her, Buzzfeed and her followers. You can’t have it both ways, just own up to your mistakes and be done with it.

    Plan B is taking time off Twitter to build up her sympathy and come back with a HiringGate type angle for her book. But Plan A was so poorly executed that the basis for her getting the attention she thought she was going to get isn’t there though and explaining her nasty attitude for reaction isn’t something to boast about.

    Reply
  10. Hector February 21, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    “@Scott_Gilmore @Scaachi it’s clearly not a job ad, and it violates no laws to encourage women & poc to pitch. But yeah thx for the link.
    — Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) February 20, 2016

    This is the boss of Buzzfeed whom despite their reputation is a very large and known website defending her terrible behaviour on loopholes. What a joke!!!

    Reply
  11. Will George February 22, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Scaachi is lying when she says she was only trying to bring diversity into her newsroom. If that was really the case, she could have simply wrote, “Please pitch me ideas. I’d especially like to hear from women, people of color, trans, and indiginous.” Instead, she sent out a series of hostile tweets that show she harbors a deep hatred for white men. The angry Twitter feminist is so cliche anymore.

    Reply
  12. Connie February 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Is that what her hateful vitriol is called nowadays… “progressive” ?
    Her constant snark, negativity and divisive language doesn’t promote anything except more of that.
    This woman needs to seriously grow up and assess her own contributions to the toxic sludge online before crying foul.

    Reply
  13. Ike February 25, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    As a black male, I stand against buzzfeed on this. They’re literally doing something that if one word of the people said to “need not apply” was different everyone including this writer who is against the out cry thst has happened, would be tearing that person apart. Dr. King was for anyone regardless of skin color based solely on merit, he died for that, stuff like this hiring practice are against that on a fundamental level. Also the fact they had to exclude white men makes me think : A. Buzzfeed knows white men would be just as qualified or More qualified so they must fudge the deck in order to see the people they want on this (discrimation) or B. They think white men are an issue within journalism (discrimination).

    If you don’t believe me switch those words with any other sexual and/or racial identifier and think how wrong it’d be if someone said :white Trans need not apply, black women need not apply, Arabic nonidentifying need not apply. It feels disgusting, so why do that to anyone even if “historically they’ve been advantaged”. Because last time I checked historical advantage didn’t play apart in the life son of a Russian immigrant family, who made it past the Iron curtain under threat of death to America, pursuing journalism just to be rejected by a place due to having light skin and identifying as male.

    Reply

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