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.
— Scott Gilmore (@Scott_Gilmore) February 20, 2016
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.
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) February 20, 2016
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.
For all the dudes who cried when BBC introduced its "minimum 1 woman per panel show" rule. Meet Dr. Michael Kimmel: pic.twitter.com/do5MazSiNx
— Bec Hill (just be chill) (@bechillcomedian) January 16, 2016
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.
About the author
Davide is the blog editor of the spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. He also works as an associate editor for the Islamic Monthly. Davide's articles have appeared in numerous publications including Al Jazeera America, The Globe and Mail and the National Post.