The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday May 9th

Farewell Column: I love the DTH, but do better

"I am attempting to break my own silence, my own passivity, in the systemic race issue at the DTH."

The first time one of my friends visited me in the office, she sat down next to me, leaned over and whispered, “Leah. This office is...so white.”

At the time, I brushed the comment off with a laugh, like, “Yeah, what can you do?” But after a full academic year working in the newsroom, I am no longer content with my silence, my compliance.

Here’s the truth: almost every person of color I know in this office has thought about quitting on more than one occasion, due to the oppressive nature of being non-white in this primarily white space. I have watched friends quit because of the way they were treated — the casual racism, the microaggressions. The way that no one cared enough to care about them.

I am the only Black editor in the DTH’s newsroom. I cannot count how many times I’ve had to brush off anti-Black sentiments, sometimes even from other people of color in the office,  because I didn’t know how to have that conversation. Because I didn’t want to call them out. I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I settled with being uncomfortable by myself.

And how do you call out your coworkers, your friends, on their casual racism? Because so often, working at the DTH, that’s where the racism was coming from. People I consider my friends.

If I say something, the room goes silent. I’m too outspoken, too sensitive. Should’ve just let it slide. It was just one word. It was just a little comment. It was just a joke.

I don’t say something? It’s just one more thing that builds up.  

The DTH has a race problem. A diversity problem. A problem in general. But it’s not because of recruitment — it’s because this office does not create a welcoming space for its people of color, does not allow them to thrive; they are damned if they speak up and damned if they don’t. 

I am disgusted by the ways the DTH has handled and discussed our race issue. The way it’s been marketed as a campaign tool. The way it’s been put on the to-do list, but never resolved. The way it’s ignored in favor of silence, sweet and simple silence.  

This isn’t exclusive to the DTH — it plagues both college and professional newsrooms across the country. Just a few months ago, members of Harvard University’s student newspaper wrote a piece on diversity at The Crimson. The column, titled “Breaking Our Silence,” was written by two people of color in a primarily white newsroom. 

It reads: “We must stop responding to criticisms of our issues with race by pointing to authors of color, without asking why they stop writing for us or why they aren’t officially elected members of The Crimson. If the organization continues to nudge those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcome into silence, it won’t be held accountable.”

I am attempting to break my own silence, my own passivity, in the systemic race issue at the DTH. Many people love this paper. So do I. It has made me a better reporter, a better journalist and a better leader, and I love and cherish so many of the people I work with. 

But it has come at a cost. 

I cannot commemorate my experience at the DTH without also recalling the time when I sat outside the office and cried after a meeting about a diversity article because my Blackness felt like a burden. Or the time when, during a formal event, a speaker made a joke about race, and I felt my dinner rise up. Or the time when. Or the time when. The list goes on.

The DTH needs its editors of color. Journalism needs editors of color. And if we are not actively ensuring that our staffers of color are uplifted and welcome in our newsroom, whether they be college or professional, we are failing. We are failing our organizations, we are failing journalism and, more importantly, we are failing our peers.

I have loved my time with this paper, but it is because I love it that I must speak out and hold us accountable. We only have ourselves to blame for our problem, and as I leave this newsroom behind, the question lingers: How long will we continue to push this under the rug?

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