Media has a ‘big impact on how the world sees black people’, Oshawa community hears

Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas at the Black History Month event at the Durham Children's Aid Society. Photo credit: Leslie Ishimwe

What stories are being told about people of colour? Who is telling these stories and who is listening? These are questions asked by Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, moderator for the Durham Children’s Aid Society (DCAS) fifth annual Black History Month (BHM) event in Oshawa on Tues. Feb. 23rd.

The theme was the evolution of racism in the media.

Panelists included CBC host Marcia Young, Sportsnet writer Donnovan Bennett, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Science & Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Dr. Wesley Crichlow, and Shaneese Garcia a second-year student in the Broadcasting – Radio and Contemporary Media program at Durham College (DC).

The DCAS hosts these events as part of their Anti-Oppressive Practice (AOP) commitment. Several staff members from DCAS were involved in organizing the event.

Guest speakers (from left) Dr. Wesley Crichlow, Marcia Young, Donnovan Bennett, Shaneese Garcia, and Dr. Wanda Thomas at a recent event. Photo credit: Leslie Ishimwe

Many topics were brought up in the discussion, including the role social media plays in addressing and perpetuating racism in the media. Shaneese Garcia says the media needs to be more positive about the black community.

“The media is a big place to spread a message, and they do have a lot of work that has to be done on the positive side of everything, rather than the negative,” said Garcia, adding, “it does have a big impact on how the world sees black people. Yes, there are a lot of bad things but there can be more good things instead.”

Donnovan Bennett mentioned he sometimes gets questioned by black people in particular about why he covers hockey since it’s not a “black sport” and he framed this as racism by his own race.

He said, “If anyone no matter the colour or creed is assuming something about me based on my race, I take that to be racism. If someone who was white questioned me covering hockey, I’d take it as racism so no matter the motivation to me, I would like to be Donnovan Bennett the broadcaster that represents the community.”

Dr. Bernard intervened by asking if what he had experienced was really racism.

Dr. Crichlow challenged Bennett’s assertion stating it wasn’t racism but rather a lack of black representation in the sport.

Crichlow said, “Blacks are not dominant in hockey because it’s an expensive sport and access to the sport is inhibited as a result of cost.”

He continued by saying, “The question is understanding access and how access is historically situated to construct a particular narrative around whiteness. So the questions of people asking you why you’re covering the sport have to do with how they’re situated, where they’re located and dislocated in society.”

Young concluded the conversation by explaining the reason why she encourages the discussion of racism in the media. She said it is because there isn’t enough representation of other races other than the white race.

She referenced a recent Globe and Mail article which ran a picture of Paul Massey as the featured image, when the headline read, “Canadians Paul Massey and Domee Shi win Oscar for Bohemian Rhapsody, Bao”.

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Young said, “Here you have a choice, there is an Asian woman and a white man. Who gets the picture? It’s the white man. If I was on that desk, and editing that page, I would have put the Asian woman on the picture.” She goes on, “And it bothers me because white men get everything and can we not give other people a chance?”

Approximately 70 people attended the event including families and children in care, as well as DC media students and community members.

Dr. Bernard summed up the themes of the evening’s discussion. These included significance of systemic racism; self-advocacy and social activism; exclusion and marginalization; the story of Canada.

“We are the stories we tell ourselves,” said Marcia Young. “on a personal level and who we are as a country.”

“This is our story,”said Bennett.