Last week, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to follow Sen. Kamala Harris as she campaigned in Charlotte for the 2020 presidential election. I was so excited to cover the potential vice president of the United States, but it wasn’t a perfect day for me.
“We are going into the hood,” a fellow journalist said as we were driving through East Charlotte, a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood.
After hearing his words, my first emotions were anger and disgust, but I chose not to react. I was the youngest journalist, as well as the only journalist of color in the press pool, and I thought, “How would everyone here see me if I said something to him?”
East Charlotte is known for its diverse immigrant community and cultural diversity of people from around the globe. Practically all types of international businesses can be found in this area. My family and I frequently visit this area to go grocery shopping and eat at various Latinx businesses in the neighborhood.
The words this journalist used would be unacceptable if he were to use them in an article written for any publication, or if broadcast on live television. So why would he use those words privately on the bus?
Perhaps he thought his words would not impact anyone. But that’s not true. His words did impact someone. His words impacted me. His words will live with me as I continue to work hard to become a successful journalist of color.
After speaking to a journalism professor at UNC Hussman, I realized I could not hold inside what I was feeling. My experience is not just my own. There are plenty of journalists of color who experience racism and microaggressions from colleagues in the industry.
Here’s the thing: I never learned how to combat racism or discrimination while out reporting on the field. It is just something that has never come up in classes. We are always taught to report objectively, not giving our opinions on what we are reporting on.
But that has to change. It is time that journalists work together to end discrimination not just in the communities that we cover, but also in our own industry. We need to speak up in situations where people are being racist and prejudiced in our own spaces and workplaces.
Maybe back up your fellow colleagues when they are attacked with racist remarks. Or create an open dialogue for journalists in your media organization to openly talk about their experiences. Or try educating yourself on the communities you are going to cover before you go out in the field.
If not us to change the culture of the industry, then who? If not now, then when?
UNC Class of 2022
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