“I’m tired, but I can’t quit. There’s too much at stake.” ~ Terry Jones
I received an article this week about media vet, Rebecca Carroll, who announced she’s quitting “mainstream media” because she’s tired of encountering racism in the newsroom. She states, “It’s a strange and incredibly demoralizing time to be a black person in American media.” After reading this, my first question was, “When has it ever been a great time to be black in American media?” My second thought was, “If you’re going to drop out of mainstream media because of racism, then you may as well drop out of life…”
When I was reading this article, I happened to be sitting in a mainly white newsroom.
I understand Carroll’s sentiments. She recounts her experiences of being one of the few black people in at given job, and being met with either blatant or passive aggressive acts of racism. I get it, but I’m inclined to say, “So what?”
It seems to me that Carroll has won in many ways by at least getting to the level of editor, and being in a position where she can even be at the table. Many talented writers of color will never even get that opportunity. The fact she can write a piece like this and apparently not be concerned that her statement will hinder her career implies she’s earned and been afforded the opportunity to solidly establish herself. My reluctance to cry Carroll a river (not that she’s asking me to) isn’t out of apathy. I do understand that dealing with racism is exhausting.
Hell yeah it’s frustrating to consistently be taken to task because of your race. It’s annoying to have to defend your ideas, or explain your perspective over and over again to white people who just don’t get it, or refuse to, because they don’t have to. But dropping out of the game doesn’t feel like the answer-because now, there’s one less brown face at the table to fight the good fight. And the fights don’t end just because one leaves mainstream media.
There are challenges everywhere. No single work environment is perfect. If you’re not dealing with issues of race, it’s class, or age, or status or some other sociopolitical bullsh*t. There is no utopia. And you pick your battles.
There are times when you decide to address the bullsh*t, and hopefully have a teachable moment. And there are other times when you decide not to waste precious breaths and dignify the uniformed stupidity with a comeback.
Carroll has the right to feel the way she does and redefine her career path. After all, media is a tough business, and I believe it can often be exponentially harder if you’re a person of color. But, being black can be hard. And dealing with racially based challenges is just par for the course. You may have to deal with ignorant, racist nonsense, but at least you’re part of the conversation.
I recently had an encounter where I had to explain cultural sensitivities to a number of white journalists. I sensed some defensiveness, but I also thought, “I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can bring awareness to these issues and hopefully affect change.” And I did. And I’m proud of that.
In life, we pick our battles, and maybe Carroll is tired of racism being the most prevalent fight. But what happens if people of color in mainstream media give up? If we attempt to protect ourselves from racial encounters by staying out of the mainstream arena, we may not be faced with the exact same struggles elsewhere, but we also forfeit the bit of power we do have. We give up the power of simply being at the table to represent diverse perspectives. Whether or not we win every fight, we are at least on the battlefield. Not everyone gets there.
I respect Carroll’s right to leave mainstream media behind. And I know there are throngs of others ready to fill her spot at the table and represent.
My hope is that those of us who are fortunate enough to be in an industry that historically has been very exclusive to people of color, will stand tall. I hope we will not become too weary to fight for racial equality and cultural humility with outlets that aren’t primarily concerned with the perspectives of marginalized communities. I hope we decide to remain part of the conversation.