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.