Global News should fix racially-charged article and apologize to the community

 

Racism is indeed subtle in the media; so much so that its presence is often very difficult to detect without skilled deconstruction of content. Given the prolonged and deep-rooted controversy over the years about racism in the media, one would think that news organizations across this country would hasten to ensure that the images and stories they publish are free of stereotypes.

Global News is a media organization with content that has national reach. Global News is neither a news neophyte, nor an organization operating on a shoestring budget that precludes training in media stereotypes of black men. Yet, in a shocking, horrific and explosive display of racial insensitivity, Global News on February 13, 2018 published a piece titled: “Think your workplace is toxic? 6 signs you’re the problem”. Dani-Elle Dube, the writer of the piece, apparently sets out to describe “toxicity” in the workplace, ways to tell who is a toxic employee, and strategies to dismantle employee toxicity.  By all counts, the intention of the piece appears to be pure. It is transformed into a racist piece because of its infection with black-male stereotypes simply by the picture Global opted to use below the headline caption.

Think your workplace is toxic? 6 signs you’re the problem

Inside the picture are the following words: “If your attitude is negative and it distracts your colleagues, you may be a toxic colleague, experts say.”  The full article can be found at https://globalnews.ca/news/4020976/signs-youre-the-toxic-co-worker-in-your-workplace

Though the content of the article may be topical and beneficial to a lot of people in workplaces in Canada and beyond, the article becomes despicable because the picture when interpreted in the context of the definition of a toxic employee is both nasty and offensive to black men, already under-represented in Canadian workplaces.

The picture shows an angry black man dressed in dark clothing.  He is bald headed. His fist appears clenched. His mouth is wide open. The image makes it appear as though this angry black man is shouting at a docile white woman. She is dressed in a white turtle neck, with a black apparel from the waist down. The woman in the image is non-confrontational and has her arms seemingly behind her back. The picture is presented against a white backdrop that magnifies the starkness of the contrast between the two displayed dispositions.

With this image intact, the author of the article proceeds to define a “toxic” employee and quotes Angela Payne, General Manager of Monster Canada, as saying that [a] toxic employee is generally characterized as someone who is “negative in all aspects of their work, distracts colleagues and affects overall productivity.” Angela Payne, general manager for Monster Canada, says. “A toxic co-worker generally has an infectious energy or attitude that can spread amongst other co-workers and take away from productivity and motivation. If you’re a toxic co-worker, you’re likely not willing to work late, put in extra effort or contribute to the positive work culture.”

So, what is this article and the picture taken together really saying?  Are black men the toxic ones in the workplace? Are they the ones who refuse to contribute to a positive work culture? Are black men the ones who are going to frighten white women in the workplace? Is this just another version of “jungle fever”.

There are other monumental concerns with what is being said in the article as compared to what the image plus the article is saying. To be clear, the article is already misleading. It is based on the words and thoughts of a single person, Angela Payne, General Manager of Monster Canada, not “experts” (plural).  What makes Ms Payne an expert is never stated in the article. Leaving those technical issues aside for a minute, Ms Payne’s suggested remedy is partially reproduced here as follows:

“Put positive into practice and it will go a long way, Payne says….Try setting yourself the goal of complimenting at least one colleague a day for their work, ideas or results. Give positive feedback, especially in front of other colleagues, to make someone else’s day. “Why not try getting to know your colleagues and really listening to what they’re interested in?” Payne adds. “You might find some common ground and asking someone about themselves is a form of flattery.”

Really Ms Payne, are you serious? The advice is culturally biased. She is obviously no expert on inter-cultural, cross cultural, or other types of communication patterns that may lead an organization down a myriad of paths. To be fair to Ms Payne, she may not have seen the article in its final form prior to publication. Indeed, the author, herself, may not have seen it, prior to publication. A black guy complimenting a white woman in the workplace under the circumstances; really now? That’s some serious misstep there “mate”. Perhaps in a non-toxic work environment asking someone about themselves may be a form of flattery. But based on the imagery in this article, who the heck is going stick around for that angry black man’s flattery. The image already plays on the stereotype of black men not only as angry, but violent. Similarly, who in the workplace is going to be receptive to an angry black man’s gesture of flattery? And in the current workplace climate, where does “flattery” end and sexual harassment begin?

The point is that the article simply because of the picture selected becomes racially charged. Yet, for Global News there are larger organizational questions arising from the mere publication of this article. Was it published in its present form by way of accident, or was it orchestrated to be this way? Was it intended to be provocative?  Does Global News have a vetting process for its articles to ensure that subtle and in this case not so subtle racialized messages are not published?  Did all of the eyes at Global News that looked at this article prior to publication not see the problem? If so, there is a serious need for training. Is the mere publication of this article evidence that Global News needs to look inward at its own management structure and workplace and make some changes?

Let’s be clear, no one is suggesting that news organizations start to engage in censorship. But there is a big distinction between censorship and responsible journalism that remains not only cognizant of, but vigilant against the publication of racially stereotypical images and messages, particularly about workplaces where black men are so vulnerable, assuming they are employed in the first instance. Shame on you Global News. Get it right. Global News needs to fix this..

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