Opinion: The CBC’s ‘no whites’ policy is a mistake, but no accident
On Monday, a job ad was posted seeking a new host for a CBC children’s program. They were seeking a male between 23 and 35 years of age who could carry a tune. Oh, and “Any race except Caucasian.”
The job ad was quickly pulled down and amended — the “no whites” bit was deleted. The CBC said it was looking into the incident, and the casting agency that had published the information apologized quickly, calling it a mistake.
A mistake? No doubt. But for those who’ve dealt with the CBC before, it’s hard to accept that it was an accident.The idea that a casting agency would just randomly decided to exclude an entire race of people was always implausible. A better guess was that the CBC had communicated to the agency what kind of candidate they were looking for. Would CBC execs have said, “Whitey need not apply”? No, of course not. But was it possible, even likely, that while discussing the ideal candidate for the job, they might have strongly implied that it would be terrific if the candidates were anything but white? Oh, yes.
The casting agency has all-but confirmed this. “We were asked to seek a cast of diversity,” the company said. “We mistakenly took that to mean that the production was not seeking Caucasian actors. This was a mistake that was made entirely by the casting company.”
Well, yes and no. Being so blunt about it was the mistake. But were they mistaken to assume that the CBC didn’t want a white guy? Doubtful.
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I’ve had a taste of this myself. Part of my job is going on radio and TV programs to represent the Post and speak about what’s in the news or expand upon something I’ve written. The overwhelming majority of the time, the process is simple: A producer emails me, tells me what they want to talk about and when, and I say yes and give them a phone number to reach me at.
But the CBC, which has more staff than your typical private-sector station could even imagine, has a much more involved process. Before you ever get on CBC, you conduct a lengthy pre-interview with a producer, who tests out your answers on a variety of angles. It’s actually not unusual for the pre-interview to last longer than the real interview.
One of the first times I went through this process, after spending about 20 minutes on the phone with a very earnest and friendly producer, she told me, “This sounds great. This is exactly what we’re looking for. Would you be able to be at our Toronto studio tomorrow?” I confirmed that I was able. “Great!” she said. “Then we’re all set, except for one thing. We’re trying to get a woman on the show to have more balance, and if we get one, we’ll have to take a raincheck for you.”
Bemused, I thanked her and hung up. Several hours later, I got a call back. “You’re off the hook!” she said cheerfully. “We found a woman!” (I tuned in the next morning, and it was the Post‘s very own Tasha Kheiriddin, as it so happens.)
I’ve been on the CBC a bunch of times since, and would be happy to go on again at any time. But I’ve been pre-interviewed two or three times more often than I’ve been on the air, and have been repeatedly told that I’m being bumped for diversity reasons. A few times I’ve even been told the entire segment has been scrapped, but I’ve then heard it on air as planned, featuring people who can check off more diversity boxes than I can.[node:ad]
This doesn’t offend me. Producers pick the best guests to meet their show’s needs. But what does stick out about these experiences is how blase the CBC’s staff is about it. Based on how openly and cheerfully they discuss the needs to fill positions — even just guest commentators competing for eight minutes on The Current — based on the race or gender of the candidate, you can be absolutely positive that the CBC’s entire culture is steeped in diversity. It’s Priority One.
The casting agency that said whites need not apply wasn’t as polished as the CBC might have liked. But they knew what their client wanted. Their only mistake was stating it in such blatant terms.
The wording before the change:
If you’re here to find instructions regarding a self tape audition submission for the male Kids’ CBC Host, you’re in the right place! Below, you will find a PDF with the audition material and all of the instructions.
Please only submit if you match the following criteria:
Male between the ages of 23-35yrs
Any race except Caucasian
Must be able to carry a tune (ability to dance or move well is a bonus but not necessary)
Comfortable being in front of a camera and not afraid to show a silly side
Great with kids; the type of guy that pre-schoolers would love to be around
Loves physical comedy, would enjoy hanging out with puppets all day and can be funny on the fly.
This column was originally published in the National Post and reprinted here with the author's permission.