An image of Scaachi Koul and Jonathan Kay on CBC's the Sunday Talk
CBC News / Via youtube.com

My fellow blog editor Fatima Syed wrote an important blog post yesterday responding to the Twitter debate regarding BuzzFeed Canada senior writer Scaachi Koul’s appearance on The National. I agree with the main argument put across in Syed’s post: we need to fight for newsroom diversity in order to allow more women of colour to have careers in journalism and reduce the unfair expectations placed on those who have attained some success.

Yet if we’re going to discuss race and representation in Canadian journalism seriously, it needs to be with nuance. Syed’s post lacked a bit of that nuance because she ignored, or wasn’t aware of, an important part of the conversation that Koul’s appearance sparked.

Syed characterized the backlash Koul faced solely as “abuse,” or as inappropriate comments about her appearance and mistaken whiteness. Koul certainly did receive disturbing abuse from some, and it’s no secret that women of colour on social media are disproportionately harassed. But Koul also faced very legitimate criticism from a number of black women, most notably another female journalist of colour, Septembre Anderson.

Anderson’s criticism of Koul’s appearance on The National focused on her perceived lack of insight regarding the importance of women of colour in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Anderson presciently noted that focusing solely on arguments for gender parity without deeper critical analysis will likely result in white women dominating the cabinet.

After Koul published an article at BuzzFeed Canada defending herself from perceived attacks, and attempting to address her privilege, Anderson responded in the comment section by saying, “So, rather than address the very real criticism you use your power and privilege to humiliate Rachel Décoste [a woman whose tweet was linked in Koul’s article], totally downplay accountability and play victim? Classy.” Anderson also took to Twitter claiming Koul unfairly portrayed her as aggressive, an “age old” tactic used against black people.

Syed unintentionally perpetuated this portrayal by characterizing the entire backlash Koul faced as abuse, without pointing out the valid criticism that came from other female journalists of colour like Anderson.

Obviously, Koul is not solely to blame for the fact that a panel on gender parity did not have enough critical insight regarding race. If the demographic of Canadian journalism reflected Canada’s population instead of being dominated by white people (especially older men), the responsibility for this sort of nuance would not have rested solely in Koul’s hands.

Still, Anderson and others absolutely have the right to critique Koul’s performance on the panel, as well as the perceived privilege they believe she used in an inappropriate manner. This sort of critical discussion should be encouraged instead of demonized if we truly want to build a more diverse Canadian journalism landscape, because nuance is of the utmost importance in this matter.

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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.

17 comments
  1. Or, what really happened: Anderson tweeted mistakenly that the CBC panel was all-white, Koul responded that she is not white, Anderson went into a righteous tweet-rage after being corrected, Rachel Decoste jumped in with some loathsome nonsense about Koul having “white privilege written all over her skin tone.”

    Through it all, Koul basically just kept repeating that she would be happy to chat about the issue, while Anderson and Decoste refused to speak with her and instead dogpiled on with more downright weird critiques (determining, for instance, that Koul must be “self-hating and anti-black”, and “performing whiteness.”)

    These two intellectual featherweights determined that on their personal hierarchy of oppression, Koul was more or less white, and therefore not as oppressed as their darker-skinned selves (a very questionable assumption, given Islamophobia, etc), and therefore a worthy subject upon whom to heap irrational abuse predicated on their own assumptions and prejudices.

    So no David, the criticisms were not legitimate, and Anderson’s rambling, ranting, useless stream-of-consciousness nonsense is very safely ignored, except inasmuch as it provides a window into the negative aspects of social media, which give a platform to those who maybe don’t deserve it.

    And that’s not about race; it’s about realizing the first knee-jerk thought that comes into your brain may not actually need to be shared, and about not confusing anger for insight.

  2. I saw the entire Twitter exchange, not to mention I have a friend who was a friend of Septembre so I can verify everything Jeremy Bat said. Septembre has a history of lashing out at non-black women of colour over the smallest disagreements, often calling them “anti-black” for the smallest mistakes the other party would make. The person I know, was subjected to the exact kind of abuse as Scaachi. Yes we do need to discuss certain taboos within minority communities, but we also need to confront the bullying some people do when they have a power-hungry complex from being well-known Twitter personalities as Anderson demonstrated. No wonder social justice has become a laughingstock by everyone regardless of political affiliation.

  3. This article is on point.

    Saatchi’s skin colour gives her privilege. She even advocated for women’s equality to be put ahead of race. When you look like a white woman, that’s a stance to take since you stand to benefit from the gender discourse — one that systemically gives a handup to white women.

    Saatchi’s high caste was a privileged in her forefather’s land and it’s still a privilege now. Calling her out is not abuse. It’s simply stating the uncomfortable truth.

    1. The problem though is that Decoste and Anderson refused to engage further on the topic when Scaachi offered to talk about it. They just continued going after her. Decoste even called her white several times.

      Identity politics are of major importance, but people like Anderson and Decoste contribute little substance, often devolve into abusive online bullies, and therefore stand in great contrast to people like Desmond Cole and Andray Domise. That being said, I have listened to Canadaland Commons since day 1 and have never understood why Anderson is even welcome there.

  4. There’s a critical error in this article. Septembre Anderson is not a journalist, and should never be mistaken for one.

    No self-respecting journalist would publicly pile on others for acts of anti-blackness and racism.

    If anything, Septembre and her ilk of angry compatriots are exactly that: Angry at the world for perceived wrongs, playing the victim when it suits them (which is usually always) instead of taking responsibility for the outputs of their constant outrage and self-righteous stupidity, ignorance and barely concealed loathing for anyone who isn’t white.

    1. Whoa hang on there.

      I agree people like Decoste and Anderson are problematic, but most of their grievances are not just merely perceived. They are very, very real. People of colour, especially trans folk and women, are subject to all kinds of prejudice in media, when applying for jobs, when going to an airport, and so on. If you take the time to read about the advent of carding, or the treatment of sex workers, in Toronto, you will see what I mean.

      And it is people like Cole, Domise, and Munira Abukar that have educated me on these issues. Frustrations with people like Decoste and Anderson should not be for the content of their grievances, but instead on how they go about them. Don’t allow them to reduce the credibility of entirely legitimate social justice movements.

      1. I agree that carding is a serious issue. I’m not familiar with the issues around the treatment of sex workers, but will definitely look into that more.

        On the topic of grievances, I’ll concede that they are real. The problem is that people like Anderson tend to cloud and muddy the waters with their behaviour. It’s very difficult to support Septembre or take her seriously when she starts to sound off about how awful white people are. That doesn’t help anyone, least of all her. What blows me away is that, as far as I can tell, she hasn’t clued into that.

  5. I agree with Jennifer. My problem with Scaachi as a “journalist” is that she challenges people over social media to pm her, may I add in a very negative/aggressive way, to discuss their issues but I always get the feeling that she is going to write whatever she wants if they decide they don’t get along. And she has the power to spread whatever the hell she wants via Buzzfeed while voices of other social media ranks only have their facebook or blogs to air their feelings out (and the other side of the story).
    I would never engage with her in a non-public forum because she fails to create a safe and fair environment off social media. Word on the street is that she doesn’t exactly portray people in the fairest of lights (no pun intended). If she has to identify her privilege, or check it, she has got to look more carefully at her trolling interactions on social media, the way she checks out of her class privilege and solely focuses on race when it is convenient for her, and her aggressiveness towards women of colour who challenge her in any way.
    Anyway, good on you for calling someone out who rarely gets called out. I’m sick of her overreactions and her constant stretching of the truth.

  6. Also, just because September hasn’t sold her soul to Buzzfeed doesn’t mean she isn’t a journalist. What an asshat. Look at her credentials before trying to dismiss her.

  7. It’s interesting how the intersection of gender and race has now become “gender must be far, far below everything else, always”. It’s interesting how statistics on women’s mistreatment and violence against women are only ever used to argue with men, but not to support women themselves. I have seen over and over again women being bullied for any kind of success, including women of color, lesbian women, and/or transgendered women, and so often from other supposed feminists. I have also seen rape victims and women who have gone through hell struggling to defend themselves against supposed feminists who are shaming them for… what? I don’t know. Making minor mistakes. Hashtagging last week’s hashtag –that this week is now problematic because someone with a lot of twitter followers said so? For being perceived as not having ever suffered oppression because they are not demographically trendy? It’s gotten to the point where we couldn’t even condemn the Cologne rapes because contemporary feminism just… doesn’t give a crap about women unless they can use their rapes for some statistic. So, now only crazy, racist, fringe-right groups noted the attacks. Good job, guys.

    Saying that you advocate for women should not be interpreted as “against racial minorities”, especially when the person in question IS a racial minority. This isn’t legitimate criticism. It’s just petty nonsense that keeps everyone back. Hell, South Asian women probably are more demonized and less represented than other women of color in many platforms.

    When the world demands that women be silent, apologize, be sweet, never make a mistake or else fall into the angel/whore dichotomy, it’d be really great if feminism didn’t demand that, as well. It’d be great if one could succeed as a woman without feminists tearing one down. It’d be great if when handsome, rich, male celebrities tried on feminism for an accessory we didn’t moon over them as icons for the movement before trashing every woman who has any kind of voice. Or, who doesn’t. Sometimes the anger machine just turns on random people with a handful of online followers and no power at all.

    What was Koul supposed to do? Say, “I’m not a woman of color”? Deny her heritage? Apologize before she speaks? Quit her job so that someone else can have it? I mean, what criticism is there other than, “She looks a certain way in the body she was born with, so I hate her and she must now give up her ethnicity!” Um… okay.
    Well, maybe I think the people who are privileged enough to hang out online all day should give up their rights to claim oppression, then, if we’re allowed to be arbitrary. After all, this focus on online activism alienates all the many, many people too poor to access computers with frequency, or who live without the infrastructure needed for internet, or who work backbreaking hours in manual labor jobs and can’t keep up with that hashtag is trendy and what is not “problematic” (aka trendy last week, and now no longer hip with the kids). OR, maybe we can stop attacking women. That’d be best.

    I know that if I enter into a feminist circle to talk about any abuse I have experienced, women with more money than I have ever had, and more voice than I have ever had, will tell me to begin each sentence with “I am sorry”. I am sorry for being skinnier than this woman, and younger than that woman, and for my hair color, and for my skin color, and on and on.

    I get it. You get a power rush from calling people out and driving them from any media presence. But, it’s not feminist. It’s just cyber bullying. And, it gives every anti-feminist critic ammunition.

  8. The tone police is out in force in the pro-Koul Kamp.

    Being forced to admit that Decoste and Anderson have legitimate grievances, but finding fault now with the messanger still. Do you even hear yourselves???

    Koul is a koward. She bashes her challengers in public, and yet requests for them to respond in private. It doesn’t take a genius to see that pattern. Koul repeatedly refused to respond to Decoste’s legitimate questions on the buzzfeed article, trying to failing to bate-switch to other topics. Answering the questions would reveal Koul’s skin privilege — which was the kernel of the discourse.

    «I would never engage with her in a non-public forum because she fails to create a safe and fair environment off social media.»

    This is probably why Decoste or Anderson didn’t engage Koul in private. Yet Koul’s Kamp (Anon Annoyed Jan 11) is blind, deaf and dumb to legitimate action and reaction to Koul’s tactics.

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