Sunday, November 26, 2017

Minority Women in Broadcast Media

My first reaction when we were given an assignment to interview a journalist was one word: "how?"  Having been out of the country for so many years, the idea of having to do the researching and networking to find a journalist willing to be interview seemed like a daunting task.

That was, until I remembered Molly.

I met Molly Thomas ten years ago when we were both participants of the Explore Program in Montreal, Quebec.  Molly, a social butterfly, floated into my room and introduced herself with confidence and ease on our first day in residence.  Fast-forward ten years and Molly has made a name for herself in the industry, working her way from an internship with Global News, Edmonton, to a breaking news reporter and correspondent gig for CBC News Network in Toronto.

While talking with Molly about Mohawk's PR program and the interview project we fell into a comfortable rhythm that old friends and acquaintances usually find after long gaps in meetings and conversations.  Her career path was admirable, and her insight into journalism and media refreshing, but the most interesting thing to come up from our interview was a phrase that I wasn't quite expecting to hear:

"Brown privilege."

Discrimination, white privilege, cultural appropriation, racial inequities, #blacklivesmatter ... these are all topics out there in the world that people are fighting to raise awareness of and to correct, but in all this conversation about race and discrimination I had never heard someone use their status as a visible minority from a strong vantage point.  And so, I asked her to explain what she meant.

"There's an advantage in being a minority in terms of people being open to you.  You have access to people ... people who tell you stories that have never been told to others.  Being a woman, a visible minority, and a Canadian, it's a new type of privilege.  When I'm abroad, people don't identify me as Canadian; they see me as Indian.  And what does this afford me?  In the middle east, Africa, and even in the US and Canada, people welcome me.  I have this awareness that being a woman of colour means that I can go to different places and get respect."

This really surprised me.  In the political climate we live in today you rarely hear people bragging about having a darker colour of skin, let alone how that colour gives them any sort of social advantage, but talking more with Molly about it, I saw that she had a point.  Looking the way she does is an advantage in her work because she talks to refugees, immigrants and people abroad, and her Indian appearance gives her a friendly and relatable face.  Molly used an example of an apartment fire in Saskatchewan to really drive home the point.

"I was late to the scene, and by the time we got there other news crews were already packing up.  They said, 'Go home, Molly.  No one's talking.'  But I didn't want to leave empty handed and so I waited, and waited, and the first guy who came out of the building gave me an interview, invited me into his home, and then introduced me to his family and his neighbours, too.  When my colleagues asked me, 'how did you get them to talk?' I just said that it was because I was brown.  The residents were all immigrants, some of them illegal, and they were scared to speak to reporters.  But me?  They opened up to me right away."

Hearing this story made me reflect on my own experiences as a teacher in Asia, and how I integrated with ease as a kindergarten teacher because, unlike some of my foreign co-workers, I was a friendly and familiar face to my young students.  It made me realize that we, as a society, still have a long way to go to bridge the gaps in knowledge and racial inequality, and that being a minority doesn't always have to be at a disadvantage.

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