Desmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

I expect part of the reason has to do with the shrinking newsrooms and employment insecurity compared to the stable number of teachers and job security that provide more time for these discussions:

If there’s one thing The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole makes clear, it is how integral racism is to Canadian life. It winds its way through the justice system, military decisions, child welfare, the education system and of course, the media, and leaves in its wake a trail of destruction for many, but particularly cruelly for Black, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The burden of educating society always falls on those with the least — not just the least amount of wealth but the least social capital, too. The people society is accustomed to ignoring have to make themselves heard, be taken seriously and then force a change in behaviour. This is gargantuan cross-generational work, and Cole’s national bestseller, much like Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives, is also an ode to that resistance.

One example of that resistance, the work of influencing change, that The Skin We’re In inspired, was a series of conversations among Ontario teachers.

Colinda Clyne, an Anishinaabe woman and curriculum lead at the Upper Grand District School Board, had read the book and appreciated how Cole wove together colonial history and anti-Indigenous racism with anti-Black racism. “There are many great resources to support one or the other, but not often together, and rarely with the Canadian context,” she said. Late in March, she sent out feelers to see if fellow teachers would be interested in a discussion based on this book, expecting a discussion involving about 10 people.

Instead, she ended up hosting a weekly panel titled “Anti-Racist Educator Reads” on VoicEd Radio, an educational broadcast/podcast site, with more than 500 listeners on the fifth and final week, May 13, that featured Cole himself. (For those who missed the discussions, the episodes are online.)

The people tuning in, Clyne said, were “mostly white educators with thoughtful reflections on the learning and unlearning they were doing with the book and our conversations, and the actions they were willing to commit to. It gave me a boost of hope for this anti-racism work in a way that I have not felt in a long time.”

The discussions ran deep, including the impact of police presence in schools, how Canada’s “humble colonialism” plays out in society and schools, what ignorance on racism looks like and the easily dismissed but vital role of anger to bring about change.

A sketch note by educator Debbie Donksy of a panel discussion of Anti-Racist Educator Reads that aired April 22 on VoicEd Radio in which curriculum lead Colinda Clyne hosted Camille Logan, a superintendent of education, and Kevin Rambally, a social worker and former chair of Pride Toronto.

I listened with envy to these conversations between Clyne and other leaders in anti-racism education from various Ontario school boards such as Debbie Donsky, Pamala Agawa, Melissa Wilson, Tisha Nelson and Camille Logan.

The education system is nowhere near where it should be in terms of nurturing all students with care. But teachers are at least engaging in these critical and uncomfortable reflections. Clyne also seeks an action that teachers can commit to. While I’m not one to pat people for being at the “at least it’s a start!” stage, I raise it to make the point that other sectors are not even there.

A case in point is my own industry. Journalists are duty bound to demand accountability — but this is rarely focused inward. Race and attendant issues are an extra or an “inclusion” issue, maybe even as a new-fangled lens of discussion that could bring in new audiences. It’s why solutions look like hiring a journalist of colour or two, using images of racialized people to suggest representation or speaking to a few sources of colour.

As a journalist, Cole makes extensive references to media in his book. Of course, he mentions his fallout with the Toronto Star. His blunt reporting on CBC and CTV reporters’ rude — and chiefly arrogant — questioning of Indigenous elders and activists at a 2017 press conference on the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada (MMIWG), should at least make every journalist squirm.

But I don’t hear of critical inquiry-based collective reflections in newsrooms based on that or on Cole’s highly contextualized reporting of Black Lives Matter shutting down the Pride Parade in 2016. For instance, “What role did white supremacy play in guiding our coverage on it?”

Or, “Did media, with our overwhelming whiteness, have the authority or even a balanced perspective in declaring the MMIWG inquiry’s conclusion of genocide as wrong?” Or, “Whose voices did we privilege in the Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests?”

No, journalists are supposed to be a bunch of eye-rolling cynics, the know-it-alls above self-reflection. There are, after all, “real” crises to be dealt with every day. Discussions on racism are usually held among journalists of colour, on the sidelines to the main business of journalism. In newsroom after newsroom, these journalists tell me, they struggle to be heard.

That explains why it’s taken weeks after Canada was hit by the global pandemic for media to start waking up to who was most badly hit — Indigenous and racialized people — and that too after relentless advocacy by rights groups and by the bravery of those risking everything to tell their stories.

In education, too, one of the issues raised through the VoicEd Radio episodes, “are the barriers constantly put in place in our systems, a big one being denial of white supremacy and that folks ‘aren’t ready’ to have the conversations and do the work of anti-racism,” Clyne said.

It’s worth reflecting, across sectors, on who these folks who aren’t ready are, and why, when lives are at stake, we feel compelled to wait for them at all.

Source: Shree ParadkarDesmond Cole’s book sparked deep conversations among teachers about racism. Where is the introspection in media?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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