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Growing up, I was always that one “whitewashed” Asian girl.
In school, I was never great at math or the sciences and I was always the first one to volunteer to read aloud in English class. Other Korean kids didn’t really want to talk to me because I was “too loud” or “too assertive,” so instead, I surrounded myself with friends of diverse backgrounds and slowly began to embrace an identity that wasn’t shaped by shallow racial stereotypes.
All of that changed when I started journalism school. I’d never noticed how much I stood out until I walked into my classes and noticed most of my peers were white.
Having gone to an arts high school in north Toronto, it wasn’t surprising to find myself in this position in university. But when I realized all of my first-year instructors were white, I began noticing a pattern.
The majority of guest speakers were white. The veteran journalists we all idolized were white. Reading article after article I would click on the bylines and see yet another white journalist’s headshot.
It quickly became clear to me that it didn’t matter how much I improved my writing or mastered my on-camera presence, because I wouldn’t be able to get a good job in journalism anyway. I was discouraged and painfully ignorant all at once, going as far as to blame myself for not adhering to the Asian stereotypes I’d been trying to avoid my entire life.
But looking back now, my uncontrollable anxiety and concerns about this overwhelmingly white industry are not as trivial as I thought. I’ve spent hours on the Internet trying to find data on the diversity of Canadian newsrooms, only to find outdated information.
But in the United States, the 2015 American Society of News Editors’ newsroom census reported the percentage of non-white journalists was at 12.76 per cent, in a country where nearly 40 per cent of people identify as “racial minorities.”
The Poynter Institute for Media Studies took the census data and created an interactive tool where you can see how many men, women, or men and women of different demographics work in the newspaper industry.
Curious to see how someone like me would fit in, I selected “women” and “Asian” and clicked the “find out” button. Little grey male and female stick figures all popped up at once, with a single teal female figure lit up in the top left corner. Below them, it said: “For every 100 people, there are 1.4 Asian females in the newspaper industry.” I changed “Asian” to “white” and got 31.3 white females. Then, I changed “women” to “men” and read, “For every 100 people, there are 56 white males in the newspaper industry.”
These numbers alone show that for an industry that seeks to serve the public in an authentic way, journalism is seriously failing. How can a news organization tell stories that represent the interests of its community if they are told in a predominantly white male voice?
By hiring people of colour for management and editorial positions, newsrooms can instantly bring more credibility to their stories because of their wealth of perspectives, concerns and experiences.
I’m not saying media organizations should hire non-white journalists to fill a diversity quota. Talented journalists are talented journalists, regardless of what their ethnic and cultural backgrounds are. But when Canadians rely on journalists to foster insightful conversations about the diverse communities we live in, it only makes sense to include everyone in that conversation.