Hadiya Roderique made a splash with her piece in the Globe and Mail about the hurdles to success as a black lawyer in Toronto. This week we talk to Roderique, as well as Toronto Star reporter Fatima Syed, and Extra associate editor Eternity Martis, about the challenges facing people of colour in Canadian journalism.
Fatima Syed is a reporter at the Toronto Star. Her work has appeared in the Walrus, This and Spacing. In 2016, Syed was behind the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s multimedia project “Why are we still talking about diversity?”
Eternity Martis is associate editor at Xtra. Martis’ work has been featured in numerous outlets, including CTV, Vice, the Huffington Post, The Walrus, Salon and xoJane. She co-created the Ryerson Review’s first regular podcast, Offleash.
Two years after a major multimedia project on journalism’s diversity issues, Fatima Syed said the main problems haven’t changed: there aren’t enough people of colour working in journalism and not enough coverage of diverse issues.
“Everyone seems to want newsroom ratios to improve, but identities can’t be—and aren’t—captured in numbers,” wrote Syed for the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2016.
“Journalists of colour don’t want to be boxed in, but there’s often no one else to tell stories about the communities they belong to.”
In her recent Globe and Mail piece “Black on Bay Street,” Hadiya Roderique wrote that getting ahead as a black lawyer meant constantly having to “fit” in at her predominantly white firm.
As a journalist of colour, Eternity Martis says there are similar challenges.
“It’s the same people at the top who dismiss your experience, who don’t see it as valid, and you’re also still struggling…to get in there,” said Martis. When you’re a woman of colour, she said, the glass ceiling is “double panelled.”
Canadian newsrooms have long suffered from a lack of racial diversity.and minority communities are often underserved when it comes to coverage. Reporting on Indigenous people has historically been scant and often steeped in racism and stereotypes, noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (The commission’s calls to action specifically addressed media and journalism schools). While some institutions are attempting to improve representation, incidents like the “Appropriation Prize” debacle last spring highlight the ongoing problems of a predominantly white industry.
Jessica Johnson, the new executive editor at the Walrus, said that in order to foster “meaningful diversity,” newsrooms have to make a long-term commitment to people from marginalized communities and help them build a career.
“People commission people of colour or other voices to speak only to that aspect of their experience,” said Johnson.
“So a classic example would be commissioning a black writer to write a piece on race or discrimination, but never asking that person to write a major feature on something completely different.”
“That minority reporter”
Journalists of colour face a doubled-edged sword, said Roderique. You don’t want to get pigeon-holed as “the black person writing about black people,” she said. But, if you don’t write about those communities, nobody else will. Syed said she’s constantly worried about the balance when she’s pitching stories; she doesn’t want to be cast as just “that minority reporter.”
A more diverse newsroom is good for business–it means a broader pool of story ideas, access to more communities, potential new audiences, and fewer embarrassing mistakes.
“There are so many things that editors miss, she said, from photo choices…to the words that you choose,” said Martis. “We get people who know nothing about the communities they’re writing about, and then they make those mistakes and they apologize and then it happens again.”
Why are we still talking about diversity? (Ryerson Review of Journalism)
Black on Bay Street –Hadiya Roderique (Globe and Mail)
I’m not your kind of Muslim — Fatima Syed (The Walrus)
Collateral Damage — Eternity Martis (Ryerson Review of Journalism)
Token Effort –Anda Zeng (Ryerson Review of Journalism)
The politics of capitalization –Eternity Martis (Ryerson Review of Journalism)
Imposter syndrome and hate mail
For Fatima Syed, being a person of colour in journalism means perpetual imposter syndrome.
“You always have that very self conscious sense of am I doing right by doing here, should I be doing more by being here, am I using my platform well?” said Syed. “That imposter syndrome always stays with you.”
There’s also the “insane” hate mail.
“At a certain point as a person of colour in a newsroom you expect it… so you just learn to deal with it,” said Syed.
While it can be challenging, Martis says it helps that the industry has a strong, informal support network.
“Especially if you’re a journalist of colour, there are always people who struggled before you who are willing to help you.”