I’m A Black Journalist. The Media’s Inability To Tackle Its Racism Has Me Questioning My Future
For the 15 years I had my grandfather, he had the same routine. Every morning he’d go round to our local cornershop, buy a newspaper, and read it at our dining room table. I would sit at the same table, and attempt to read alongside him – before I could even read properly.
His habit was so instilled in me that, from a very young age, I knew I wanted a career in journalism. I loved storytelling, and was enamoured by the idea of discovering stories, making a difference and changing perspectives with writing.
Since childhood I have done everything to make that happen, including embracing my dyslexia, doing as much work experience as possible, and starting a blog at 14. While I knew that journalism isn’t always an easy career, I’ve always believed it was one that aligned with my passions and, therefore, was somewhere I would fit in.
Until a few weeks ago.
Over the past month, the UK media has seriously made me question everything I want for myself career-wise. It’s made me question if there is a place for me in this industry – and even if there is, whether I want to take it.
Before Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I knew much of the UK media’s portrayal and treatment of Markle was fuelled by racism. Yet watching the interview and hearing how affected she was by negative coverage was still heart-breaking.
I am not ignorant to the fact this is a country, let alone industry, that still refuses to accept its racist past, but I hoped Markle’s interview would encourage the media to reflect.
I am not ignorant to the fact this is a country, let alone industry, that still refuses to accept its racist past, but I hoped Markle’s interview would encourage the media to reflect on the power their words hold.
There was no change. Instead, the tabloid media critical of Markle perpetuated the damaging narrative that rich people or people in high positions can’t suffer from racism or mental health problems. It was as if they were saying “we don’t care about the damage we’ve done to people’s mental health because this way of reporting has made us millions of pounds for years – why change now?”
Piers Morgan stating live on air that he didn’t believe a word Meghan said was shocking, but the real nail in the coffin was the Society of Editors’ board statement denying racism and bigotry are present in the UK media.
That statement brought home that not only is the media racist, but it was an industry seemingly unwilling to change. When people with real power – the Society of Editors that has nearly 400 members from different publications and is supposed to represent the industry – cannot see articles headlined “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton,” speculating on Markle’s “rich and exotic DNA” or describing her mother as “a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks” as racist, it raises a few red flags for young journalists like me trying to break into the industry. How many editors really have these mindsets?
Journalism is meant to reflect the society we live in. Right now, it’s failing.
Meghan and Harry’s interview should have started discussions on how the UK media can change through addressing the lack of representation in the UK media, particularly at a senior level. Instead, the industry’s response was to gaslight minority journalists. And by extension, they deterred young journalists too, suggesting that, in order for us to fit in, we would have to get comfortable going completely against our values.
Journalism is meant to reflect the society we live in. Right now, it’s failing. And while I know the whole industry is not like this, for young people looking at it and seeing these statements and comments, it has to be demoralising. This industry is in dire need of diversity – yet if, like me, other journalists of colour feel the media is not “for us”, isn’t it just going to stay like this? Majorly white and majorly the old boys’ club?
So over these weeks, I’ve become increasingly convinced that while the UK media is unwilling to address its problems, there isn’t a place for me in it. Yet I think it’s important to reflect on the fact I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to the position where I am today, where I can even write this piece.
Black women make up approximately 0.2% of the UK media – a figure that should speak for itself – but, the work of incredible Black journalists like Nadine White, Charlene White, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Chanté Joseph, Natasha Henry and Vanessa Baffoe keep me inspired. These women are living proof that people like me can achieve in this industry, should we decide to keep pushing.