Case studies on racism at work: Readers share solutions to these real-life scenarios

Plus: Why Canadian media should stop conflating people of colour with immigrants, and debating the term 'BIPOC.'

Hey y’all, Anita here. Despite the fact that our nation’s leaders couldn’t agree on condemning “systemic racism” in a first ministers’ declaration as recently as last June, it’d be patently absurd to deny its existence in Canada after the appalling news that’s come out just within this past month about the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children found at former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. 

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My outsider’s approach

These shameful revelations were yet another reminder of the many dimensions of racism and how it manifests. Systemic racism is present in our schools, health care system and courts. It’s found in the media we consume and the places we work. That’s why I recently asked readers to share how they’d navigate three real-life case studies on racism in professional settings. Review the case studies, then read on to see what everyone had to say:

Case study #1: Christy and Melissa
  • “Christy's a bad manager. Employees should always know where they stand with their managers, and managers must promote open and honest communication that goes both ways. Christy's already failed at this for two years. If Christy has other direct reports and Melissa thinks she's being singled out because of her race, obviously that's an issue. But unless there is a hostile work environment — even with a strong HR function — there's not much Melissa can do. Melissa could talk to Christy about it, but she should have had that discussion a while ago. While the discussion could go positively, how fast can Christy be expected to change (assuming no bias)? And is Christy really going to be the person who can help Melissa achieve her career goals? It doesn't seem that way. Melissa should look to move on, internally or external.”

  • “Christy needs to understand how she is being perceived by Melissa. A quiet chat might be helpful, assuming that Christy is willing to see the effect of her approach.”

Case study #2: Sofia and Laura
  • “Laura needs to be coached about how to get the best out of Sofia and other employees. In fact, the best bosses I had were also sports coaches for amateur and youth sports. They looked for potential in their young players and then focused on bringing those qualities out. I’m not into team sports. But I was struck by how effective these managers were able to get the best out of the employees…not in every case, of course.”

  • “Sofia needs to stop tripping and don't let anyone make her question herself. She's an acknowledged expert in her field, who regularly communicates that expertise through multiple methods. What Sofia needs to figure out is where Laura is coming from. Because it's an industry group, we can assume Laura has a degree of expertise, as well. So either Laura oversold herself to get there, she's a different kind of thinker or she's who we think she is with that condescending sounding statement. This is what Sofia needs to figure out.

    Ideally, it would be nice if a third party stepped in and said something along the lines of ‘I understood, Laura; what is it you're not getting?’ I'd like to think if I was there, I would step in; but assuming Sofia is on her own, what I would advise to Sofia is she re-engage with Laura. I would state that as members of the same team, it is important that we understand how to communicate with each other. I would restate my discussion points, break them apart a little further, then ask questions to Laura to see if she understands.

    My gut feeling is it will absolutely do no good, but Sofia has to know that it's not her — it's Laura. Where does this leave her overall? Well, she's still the expert who speaks at conferences, is quoted in the press, etc. If Laura doesn't want to engage with that person, that’s Laura's loss. Obviously, if it causes friction at future board discussions Sofia is going to have to call Laura out, which sucks that people do this to each other.”

  • “Sofia and Paul are relatively easy for me as a white male. I can use that privilege to challenge the racism and make the space for Sofia and Paul to be heard/get credit.”

Case study #3: Paul and BIPOC industry peers
  • “Paul actually does have a really good boss who deserves at least some credit. Paul needs to understand this so he doesn't become a Christy. Why is this plausible? Company had a bad reputation for DEI before Paul got there. Assuming Paul's boss hired him, Paul's boss did what any good manager does: hire the right person then stay out of their way. A good manager needs to remove roadblocks or help their employees navigate through sensitive issues and DEI is definitely sensitive. Paul needs to determine if his boss did this.

    Scenario #2: Paul's boss was nowhere to be found, didn't keep up to date with his progress, didn't hinder him, but didn't actively help. This is entirely possible, but one thing I've learned at any company, something doesn't become important unless it is emphasized by leadership. It's unlikely that the CEO mentioned DEI once, then never mentioned it again. Unless Paul has VP, SVP or EVP in his title, there's an executive champion sitting out there somewhere. It's not to diminish what Paul has accomplished; it's simply that leadership sets priorities for organizations and things that are important must be continuously communicated. So, someone gave Paul the platform he needed to succeed. Now if scenario #2 is correct and his boss is a jackass, what Paul should do is more of what he's doing — industry networking, speak or present at conferences, teach, write papers, etc. Become Sofia.”

  • “Sofia and Paul are relatively easy for me as a white male. I can use that privilege to challenge the racism and make the space for Sofia and Paul to be heard/get credit.”

Tell me: What do you think of these recommendations? How would you handle these situations?

My insider’s approach

Some related things on my mind that have to do with systemic racism in journalism:

  • One of my biggest pet peeves with establishment Canadian news outlets is their tendency to conflate people of colour with immigrants. Not all people of colour are immigrants, and not all immigrants are people of colour. For example, my mother and I are both of Chinese descent, but I’m born in Canada while she immigrated here from Hong Kong. Meanwhile, my personal trainer, who’s white, is originally from Ireland but recently emigrated to Canada.

    Should be pretty simple and straightforward to understand, right? Apparently not if our newsrooms are painfully homogeneous. Case in point: This immigration-focused Global News article starts with the lede, “Canada will be much more of a country of immigrants two decades from now than it is today,” but also includes the line, “Over a third of the working-age population, potentially as high as 40 per cent, will be visible minorities.” This Canadian Press article also conflates the two distinct groups in one line: “But the land of the living skies now has a visible minority population of 63,275, driven by rising waves of immigration.” Remember, context is 👑

    Let’s all agree to stop doing this — not least because it’s simply bad journalism.

🎨: One of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated editorial cartoons by Marty Two Bulls Sr., a member of the Oglala Lakota, from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
  • Shortly after I created the Facebook group for Canadian Journalists of Colour in 2018, there was some debate about the term BIPOC (which stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), including whether or not we should change our name to include it. Earlier this year, I came across this thought-provoking Newsweek op-ed that sums up my current perspective well. In a nutshell, it argues that “BIPOC sets up an ‘us vs. them’ binary. The acronym for Black and Indigenous shifts Asian/Pacific Islander Americans and Latino Americans ‘over there,’ reinforcing the idea of interracial conflict rather than interracial solidarity. We cannot allow that to happen. Interracial conflicts between people of color allow the machinery of white supremacy to continue to whirr while we fight each other.”

Tell me: What are your thoughts on these two issues? For the latter, I’d like to hear from BIPOC communities in particular.


Shout-outs

Thanks to my friend Laura Feinstein for cheering me on since my NYC days, calling me “one of the smartest minds in emerging journalism” (you’re making me blush!) and supporting The Other Wave since day one. Check out Slow Ghost, Laura’s fab newsletter celebrating the best in emerging art and creativity.


In my community

  • If you’re based in the Asia-Pacific, check out this newly launched Video Business Accelerator offered by the City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. I’m teaching the Bootcamp classes, which focus on audience funnels, KPIs and video monetization models.  

  • With support from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and in partnership with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the Native American Journalists Association recently released three Indigenous Media Guides for reporting on First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. 

  • Alec Saelens, manager of the Solutions Journalism Revenue Project and one of my informal go-to advisers, published a big report last month that looks at how news outlets are leveraging solutions journalism for revenue growth.  

  • Congrats to my FJP Sustainability Accelerator team, The Lakota Times, whose cartoonist Marty Two Bulls Sr. is one of this year’s Pulitzer Prize finalists in editorial cartooning! Marty is being recognized for his “insightful cartoons that offer a Native American perspective on contemporary news events.”


Cool stuff I like

  • Be sure to read “College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics,” a brilliant 2020 analysis from The Atlantic that describes how political hobbyists consume and debate politics as a form of entertainment, rather than engaging with it in a way that produces real outcomes for people. 

  • Check out media innovator Jennifer Brandel’s LinkedIn post, which shares three ways you can support Black liberation on Juneteenth, a federal holiday in the U.S. that commemorates the emancipation of African-American slaves. June 19 may have passed, but it’s not too late to take action. 

  • The announcement of MuchMusic’s return gave me major nostalgia vibes, and reminded me of how much I loved the iconic Canadian music channel’s on-air personalities as a kid, including Nardwuar the Human Serviette. His interviews with Tyler, the Creator are among my faves (send me your picks!)

  • I highly recommend subscribing to Popular Information, Judd Legum’s peerless investigative newsletter about politics and power that delivers “news for people who give a damn.” It’s in my top three newsletters, alongside The.Ink and Heated.


Last thought

Empathy is a ‘willingness to have your assumptions challenged.’

- Ashley Alvarado, VP of community engagement for Southern California Public Radio, at IRE21’s “Investigative journalism using community engagement” panel.


How you can support The Other Wave

My professional mission has always been to support the global movement towards more thoughtful, impactful news coverage, and all the ways that manifests. If The Other Wave gets you to think even a little differently about journalism, especially in Canada, then I will have accomplished what I set out to do. And if TOW gets you to take action and support Canadian media outlets — especially ones that strive to be innovative and inclusive — I will have exceeded my expectations.

If my values and goals resonate with you, please consider supporting fiercely independent media analysis that fills in gaps in coverage of the Canadian journalism landscape. How? Feel free to provide feedback, pass along resources, donate money or simply share this newsletter with your friends.