Lament for reporters of colour

Globe & Mail reporter Sunny Dhillion resigned because of racism in the newsroom. (Twitter photo)

Updated: October 28, 2018, 9:35 PM

Vancouver, B.C.

(Ed’s note: This morning , reporter Sunny Dhillion posted in his Medium page about his resignation from The Globe and Mail. Last week he ‘walked out’ from a job he obviously loves. We share his frustration about an industry which many of us including me, hoped would somehow speak for us if not often, sometimes, when an issue of importance to the ethnic community happens. The result of the Vancouver city election is one of that. And The Globe chose to slap us on the face by ignoring Dhillion’s opinion and said “there is no democracy” in the newsroom. The ‘white’ executives rule and decide what we are supposed to read. – Ted Alcuitas, Editor & Publisher)



Sunny Dhillon

Oct 29, 2018

Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away

I’ve thought about this piece, involving the experiences of journalists of colour, a lot the last few months.

The piece, republished by Poynter in June, spoke to the challenges journalists of colour can face in a lily-white industry. The unending fight to share other perspectives. The inner debate to stay or go. The exhaustion of it all.

I suppose the piece stuck with me because I’ve fought at least some of these same battles. If you leave it can feel like you’re letting other people of colour down, throwing in the towel on whatever change you had one day hoped to see. If you stay each instance in which your outlet drops the ball on a matter of race can feel like a body blow.

Last week I finally decided to leave. I cleaned out my desk and walked out of The Globe and Mail newsroom in Vancouver. I am today, this morning, formally resigning. My departure is the result of both a single incident and a continuing pattern. It’s unplanned but not out of the blue. I do not have another job lined up. I do not know what comes next.

I write this piece with the hope it will lead to meaningful reflection on the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism and the problems therein. But I have worked as a journalist in this country for the last decade and with the solutions as obvious as they are unacted upon — hire more people of colour, hear their voices, elevate them to positions of power or prominence — I cannot say I am particularly optimistic.

I was assigned my final Globe story — I did not pitch it — last Monday, on October 22. It was a follow to the Vancouver civic election, which had seen the city vote in a nearly all-white council. The assignment came after the bureau’s morning meeting in which the discussion of the new council centred heavily, if not entirely, on its ethnic makeup. The story folder and headline later emailed to me by the assistant editor confirmed this view. Another colleague kindly sent me the names of some people of colour to potentially interview.

I was given five-plus hours to write the story and I set out to speak with some of the people of colour who were on party slates but picked up thousands fewer votes than their white colleagues. The conversations were thoughtful and heartfelt. We discussed their pride at seeing a progressive council but their disappointment in not being on it. We discussed some of the racism they had endured either during the campaign or in the last few years, as the Vancouver area has been consumed by talk of foreign real-estate buyers and money laundering. In one interview we discussed the challenge of being seen as truly Canadian when your skin is not white.

I notified the bureau chief when the interviews were complete and said I was about to begin writing, as there was less than 90 minutes to deadline. The bureau chief soon walked over to my desk with a message: I was to focus less on the issue of race and to focus more on the fact eight of the 10 elected councillors were women. She said this had been a focus of the bureau’s morning meeting (it had not). The bureau chief had also emailed me a second story folder, this one with a headline mentioning only the women councillors.

I had told the bureau chief I would, of course, mention the electing of the eight women. How could I not? How could a story about who didn’t make it to council not mention high up who did? But the public discussion seemed to centre on the fact a city in which 45 per cent of people are of Asian descent did not have a single such person on council. It seemed more a story of who was not represented than who was. I felt we were making a choice that would undercut the voices of people of colour. This, to me, did not seem a story of triumph.

Shortly after the conversation at my desk ended I walked into the bureau chief’s office. I said I did not agree with what she had said. I felt it was a mistake.

She was not receptive. The bureau chief told me what I thought did not matter. The newsroom, she said, was “not a democracy.”

And on those two points, I realized, she was right.

To be a journalist of colour can be to walk a tightrope. On which issues do you weigh in? On which issues do you not? What do you pretend you didn’t see or hear? When that isn’t possible to what do you cowardly chuckle along?

The world has gotten uglier in recent years — I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how we were doing on race before that — and for me it has become more difficult to let things slide.

When a story or column does not adequately, if at all, understand or consider the perspectives of the nonwhite people it involves, what do you say? When a story involving people of colour is assigned with a colour-blind lens and a false sense of objectivity, what do you do? When you pitch projects on race and multiple times see the boss prefer a race-related project pitched by a person who is white, regardless of your read of the room, what is your recourse? When you ultimately stop pitching stories on race to preserve your own sanity, what good are you doing the very nonwhite people whose perspectives you deem yourself to be in the newsroom to share?

How many battles do you have in you?

I decided to leave The Globe and Mail because that final conversation inside the bureau chief’s office crystallized what I had felt: What I brought to the newsroom did not matter. And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.

Again, I hope this piece will lead to thoughtful reflection on diversity in Canadian journalism. I hope that in writing publicly about this I can have more of a positive impact than I feel I’ve had in recent years. And if this post provides any support or comfort for other journalists of colour, or empowers them to share similar experiences, all the better.

I want to close by apologizing to people I interviewed for stories that did not run. I am sorry to have taken up your time.

I also want to thank my wife, my family and my friends for their support during what has been a difficult period.

Thank you for reading.

Bye for now.


Sunny Dhillon is a Vancouver-based journalist. He has reported for The Globe and Mail since 2010 and was previously with The Canadian Press. He holds a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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