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A woman on a news television screen reporting from Toronto, Canada faces viewers with the chiron, "Boss: can you check your activism at the door?" Illustration by Walker Gawande

On the defense: Black journalists shouldn’t have to fight to exist

In a previous professional environment in my career as a tv journalist, I was told I was too dark to appear on the screen. The TV producer in Egypt, who insisted on removing my stand-uppers from my reports, was extremely interested in how all the reporters looked.

I was, despite my high-quality reporting, considered as the black sheep. My appearances were often deleted, and for years I always got the dangerous and hard reporting orders, like demonstrations and live conflict coverage, while fair- skinned and male colleagues got the fashion shows and air-conditioned conferences.

Years after I left Egypt, my photo appeared in the Atlas of Beauty book, which led to me taking part in a natural beauty campaign with a prominent beauty company. The video went viral, and I got interview requests to talk about the experience. I thought of the chance to speak up about how disadvantaged I was as a Black journalist, even in a country that is actually in North Africa, where people’s skin complexions are very diverse.

In a BBC interview, I told of how I was discriminated against in the newsroom because of my skin color.  The social media reaction was shocking. I was praised a few times for my bravery to talk about this topic, but many times shamed, and had my words doctored, manipulated, and misused for specific agendas. To the extent that a prominent media network fabricated a whole interview after I refused to do an interview with them. They clearly did that to use “ the trend” to serve their political agenda. Regardless of the harm they could do to me. Well, I’m Black anyway. Instead of discussing the issue I raised, I was dragged into a defensive position.

That is in the Arabic-speaking region, which is not our proudest region for journalism freedom anywayIs the situation better in Europe? 

 

It is way brighter on the freedom of expression map.  The work environment and journalism independence are better. The experiences of discrimination and the stories about racism are different. More subtle, and micro-aggressive.

In our latest article, “Can you check your activism at the door?”, Jamaican-Canadian journalist datejie cheko green discusses these subtle – and not so subtle – forms of discrimination that put Black journalists on the defense and limit them at work.

datejie was asked to leave her presumed activism on the door. The presumption is an aggressive way of condescending to and limiting “the other”, one of a number of stereotypes. A trouble maker, traumatized, biased towards Black people per se, biased against any other group of people, not trustworthy, etc. We must carry the burden of defending ourselves all the time, stressing that we are none of these things.

We are professionals who come to this profession with the forced default of fewer privileges in newsrooms. Even if we have more knowledge, it is not trusted.

We are often dragged into defensive positions. And sometimes, just to defend our very own existence in the industry. I considered leaving journalism in my almost 12 years career, because of discrimination – generally- more in Europe than I did in Egypt. 

 

I’m sure if we open more space for Black journalists to write about their experiences of discrimination, we could collect books full of micro and macro aggressions on Black, POC, and journalists from all minority backgrounds.

When I read datejie’s pitch, I could relate right away to the suffering of the Black journalists in their own home countries. While working with datejie on this piece, we shared so many experiences we lived, and many that we saw other peers living. I see dateji’s piece as a proactive journalistic action to tackle a complicated topic, in a simple, authentic way. 

 

Black journalists’ existence is a matter of resistance, granting them an equal opportunity and stopping all kinds of aggression towards them everywhere in the world, is not a choice anymore. That includes Western countries, Europe, the USA, and Canada, which are marketed as fair, less racist migration destinations. It is a mere contribution to quality journalism and the representation of all people living on the planet.

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