White Journalists Need To Do Better
Written by Isabelle Gray
Illustration by Ellen Stanton
The British media is racist. It’s time all white journalists, like me, examine their bias and do better.
94% of the media is made up of white people, which is only the beginning of the issue. To me, journalism is about telling stories, providing information and perspectives the world was not privy to before. If 94% of all journalists look the same, how is it at all possible, or likely, that the stories of all ethnicities are being told? How can we effectively learn about, for example, anti-racism and the #blacklivesmatter movement if mostly white people are reporting on it?
These statistics on the make up of British journalism realistically equates to most of the stories being told to be prioritising the white British experience. As a result, journalism doesn’t appear as a welcoming industry for black people and people of colour. Only with publications such as gal-dem, curated and written by and for women of colour and non-binary people of colour, is space being made for more diversity in the field.
But more needs to be done than this, and, vitally so, it needs to be done by white people in the media. In my own time as Editor of my university paper, I know for a fact I could have done a much better job of a wide range of things. From ‘small’ things like ensuring stock images weren’t always white people, and big things like admitting the lack of diversity in our own staff and writership, and actioning to change that. These biases need to be in our conscious thoughts every day, or nothing will change.
A few weeks ago on the BBC, a racial slur was uttered by one of their broadcasters. The report was on a man who had received racial abuse. A white journalist using a racial slur on national television is normalising hate speech, and an act in white supremacist thought. There is no justification in actually uttering the racial slurs used against someone in a vicious attack. ‘Extreme racist slur / verbal abuse / language’ would have very clearly described the incident without causing more harm than necessary. This is a perfect example of why diversity or individual commitments to anti-racism is not enough. What is the point of reporting on racism if the report itself is racist?
This goes beyond just the journalist herself, but the whole of the BBC who in all likelihood had several people view the report prior to the broadcast. If this is true, that means multiple people did not think once that saying a racial slur could be insensitive. This became apparent when they refused to apologise for the report for weeks on end. Even if more people of colour were hired in the industry, and a black person saw the script before it went to air and was able to put a stop to it, it is not the job of black people and people of colour to tell us not to be racist. We need to be inclusive where our thoughts, ideas, and practises consider all types of people. A white person hearing a racial slur is obviously not going to have the same effect as it would a black person. But the stories journalists tell must go beyond our own personal thoughts.
The BBC report, naturally, has been met with a backlash of criticism online. A lot of black people that spoke up received messages of racial abuse themselves, proving how far choices, like the BBC used in the inclusion of a racial slur, can go. The choice to include that word empowered the racist population of the UK to hurl abuse at black people simply asking for basic human decency in the reporting done by an institution they pay for annually. Because if the BBC can do it, so can they.
After refusing to apologise for the report for weeks, one of the BBC’s Radio 1xtra presenters, Sideman, has quit. This is a terrible loss to 1xtra listeners, and totally disrespectful to Sideman, who has had no choice when active racism is not being acknowledged by his employers. It is hard enough for black people to gain success in this industry, and his resignation is symbolic of a backwards step in progression. Sideman’s resignation encapsulates why white journalists need to do better. Why haven’t his white co-workers spoken out after his resignation was announced? His decision needs to be met with decisive action by the people he worked with that were privileged enough to not experience racism. His white co-workers quitting alongside him, or at least threatening to do so would create a much bigger impact.
Private acts of solidarity do enough, we need to stand together in decisive action. And this needs to happen now, if we want any chance of the next generation experiencing an industry more committed to anti-racism. Unsympathetic, cruel journalism needs to stop. It doesn’t make us more objective; it actually makes it pretty clear where your thoughts lie. We need to start caring about the people we write about, and the people we work with. No matter your political alignments, treating people with decency is not up for debate. We as white journalists need to acknowledge our biases and actively work to challenge them. And mean it. When we work together, and have uncomfortable conversations with ourselves and each other, there is hope for long term change.