Women of colour in journalism bring a lot to the job. And take a lot, too

Sunny Dhillon rocked Canadian media in October when he publicly quit his daily reporter job with the Globe and Mail. He said his editor, at the last hour, had changed the focus of his piece away from presenting concerns of people of colour. For Dhillon, who is Indo-Canadian, that was the last straw. “Being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before,” he wrote.

Just over a year earlier, freelance journalist and activist Desmond Cole, who is Black, announced he’d stopped writing  his bi-monthly column for the Toronto Star after an editor told him he violated company rules by engaging in civil disobedience, and another told him to write less about race.

Let’s be clear: Dhillon and Cole risked their careers to expose racism in newsrooms. Many who have worked in predominantly white work environments no doubt resonated to Dhillon when he announced his resignation: “To be a journalist of colour can be to walk a tightrope. On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear?”

But there’s a catch: Cole and Dhillon are both men.

Consider as well the challenges in journalism faced by women who are Black, Indigenous or identify as persons of colour — BIPOC women. Although many racialized experiences traverse gender lines, women of colour simultaneously battle stereotypes about their womanhood (crazy, too ambitious, ditzy) and their racial identities (incompetent, ethnic, only interested in “diverse” storytelling). I’m not suggesting we overlook or undermine the experiences of men who frequently encounter racism. Rather, it’s important to incorporate multiple voices in the ongoing discussions around race, so we can work collaboratively to make newsrooms more inclusive.

While attending the UBC School of Journalism, I interviewed seven women working in media hubs across Canada and combined their stories to write my academic thesis, research that uncovered the tiresome, but hopeful, realities BIPOC female reporters face. The women shared similar anecdotes: editors articulated racist stereotypes about people of colour or Indigenous peoples; colleagues frequently mistook the women for other women of colour; the women felt tokenized, like their race was paraded to make workplaces appear inclusive; and superiors siloed the women by only assigning them “diversity” stories.