TO A few years ago, the day singer Tom Jones revealed that he might have black ancestry, the Daily Mail’s chief cartoonist Mac got to work. As it did he represents this black lineage? With a couple of tribal figures, in the jungle: one, a topless mother with a baby at her breast; the other, a “savage” who carried a spear and had three human heads hanging in front of him.
It was the most clearly racist description of blacks one could imagine. It was in the newspaper the next day.
By chance, on the day of publication, the Daily Mail was hosting an event on behalf of the Journalism Diversity Fund, which is giving aspiring journalists from racial minority backgrounds a helping hand with training courses. As someone who works on diversity in the press, I was invited.
A senior editor at the Daily Mail gave a glowing speech about the fund’s good work and why the press needs more diversity. Afterward, I asked him about the cartoon and if he saw any disconnects. He wasn’t sure what reaction he would get, but he was still in shock: “What the hell are you saying?” he was fuming. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. You’re just trying to create trouble. “
I was hoping he was feeling a bit embarrassed by the cartoon and trying to laugh. Instead, despite the starkest stereotypes he portrayed, he saw absolutely nothing wrong with it, and I became the defendant.
Later at the same event, I spoke to one of the Mail’s senior public relations officers. He said, “Look what we’re doing here tonight, putting together this diversity event. This is what really matters. “
I told him he was wrong. That what matters is what happens in your product every day; They can spend thousands of dollars on feel-good diversity events without making a single difference to how their organization works.
I remembered these conversations yesterday, when, in the wake of Harry and Meghan’s claims about racism in the media, the Society of Publishers issued an immediate rebuttal. “The press is certainly not racist,” he said, immediately absolving himself of the slightest blame for the coverage of Meghan. According to society, the only thing the press does is hold the powerful to account.
That will be news to many people of color in the UK. Not only have there been noticeably different views of Meghan compared to Kate (baby cuddles; avocados), but beyond the royal family there are stark contrasts in the way black and white people are reported. As footballer Raheem Sterling pointed out, these double standards also apply to athletes and define the coverage of their personal lives, even whether it is okay to spend their earnings on a new home for their parents or not.
The Society of Editors represents the editors of national and local newspapers and magazines, among others, and states that its members “are as different as the publications, programs and websites they create and the communities and audiences they serve.” However, its board of directors is overwhelmingly white and it is unclear if its black members were consulted before making the statement.
Society also denied being “bigoted”, but as anyone with the most basic understanding of the subject knows, this is not the same as racism, which operates in ways much more subtle than name calling or “No Black” posters.
Despite this, there is much evidence of the raw type of racism within the British press: from the fusion of Asians with terrorism or grooming gangs, to the association of black children with gang violence.
And the basis for this is long-standing institutional racism that the press has never shaken off: the thoughtless racism that makes change so slow. You see it in the dominant culture of almost every national newspaper: middle class, white, Oxbridge. You will find the occasional ethnic minority person in a senior position, but nothing that seriously challenges corporate thinking. For the most part, discussions about setting the agenda on race or religion take place among a small group of white people: as people of color, they talk primarily about ourselves, not about doing it; and it is something very rare when we get to lead the discussion.
These are the issues at the center of racial disparity in news reports: subtle biases are coalesced into an internal group that reinforces them, and then key decisions are made, unquestioned by outsiders. This is why a group of editors may agree with themselves that the crudest racial stereotypes are just a little bit funny.
The first way to approach this is to accept that there is a problem: that racism can be a problem, given that only 6% of British journalists belong to ethnic minorities and most of them are likely to be in the most junior positions. Instead, the Society of Publishers has had a knee-jerk reaction saying there is no problem. Ironically, only last November did he hold a Diversity in the newsroom conference “To discuss what else can and should be done.” In one step, he has completely undermined all the warm words that were undoubtedly spoken at that event.
Because if there is no problem about racism in the press, why should anyone care about diversity? Why not leave it to the whites running things right now, who are clearly doing such an excellent job? More fundamentally, if those responsible are so defensive even in the face of even the vaguest accusations of discrimination, what are the chances that they will admit the need for real change?
One thing this whole episode shows is that for some British publishers ticking boxes is fine – but don’t you dare try to question the way your institutions actually operate. And don’t expect any serious challenges to racism in newsrooms anytime soon.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism