Dear Media, If You Really Want Women of Color To Win, Make It Happen!
Or own your bias
I was depressed during most of my late twenties. 2001 was an exceptionally bad year — as I began to ponder how long it would realistically take me to land an editorial gig.
I had spent about four years in New York City — and like most in my position — the only way to survive the concrete jungle was to hold down jobs that were totally unrelated to your field of study.
I took a job at The Gap in Herald’s Square and worked my way to the silver badge. Then I eventually submitted to the world of telemarketing — which was was the corporate default in those days. I made back-to-back calls based off of overused leads on behalf of Crain’s New York Business and the Roundabout Theater.
All the while — my eyes were on the prize as I relentlessly plotted my takeover of the literary world — just steps away. I was incorrigibly idealistic in my pursuits as well as adorably naive. I was young and inexperienced enough to believe that if I possessed the drive, ambition and stellar wok ethic — there was no way I couldn’t finagle my way into The New York Times or even Jane Magazine.
My patience was intact — even through the numerous rejection letters that took quite a long time to arrive in the mail. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy feat so I psyched myself up for the challenge. Once I accepted a retail job at a preppy store on the Upper East Side — the hope was that some of the sophisticated ladies and gents would have posh jobs in media — and maybe save me from the daily regimen of altering hemlines.
Then I got an unexpected lead when my hair stylist who worked under the tutelage of Tippi Shorter — the hot shot hair guru to the stars — hinted that the lovely looking woman who seemed to share my schedule — was actually the big boss over at Honey magazine. She encouraged me to introduce myself whenever I was up to it.
I did exactly that — a couple of weeks later. She was nice enough — but outwardly reserved. I vocalized my credentials and enthusiastically offered to write for free — as needed. She casually referred me to her deputy editor and recommended that I explain the results of our meeting.
Despite my best efforts — nothing came out of that encounter.
Looking back — it was clear that the Black women who were in places of influence were very guarded — and not necessarily willing to entertain the prospect of mentoring or throwing a bone to slightly younger and talented stock like me — who were starving for any opportunity to prove our worth on their watch.
The pool of accomplished Black women working for major publications was quite small and intimate — and the idea of expanding that tree of privilege to include random discoveries wasn’t a viable option.
So — by 2001 — I was beside myself with frustration and disbelief as I discarded yet another rejection letter from Time Out New York and cursed the sign off — that encouraged another future attempt that was bound to deliver the same outcome.
It took me almost a decade later to make my writing career a reality — and that was honestly due to the miracle of Blogger and the mass introduction to the tools of the web that made being social a lucrative art form.
Since I was unsuccessful in my quest to woo editors or grab the attention of would-be mentors — I was grateful as fuck that I was still reasonably young enough to make up for lost time. So — I collaborated with a friend I had met during my short stint in L.A. and we mimicked the popular celebrity blogs that were setting the tone — Young, Black and Fabulous, Perez Hilton, etc — and formed — Fuglywood.
It was my first experience at publishing my own shit — without any direction or set of rules to follow. We did whatever we wanted and devised our signature delivery. Eventually it became mine and that’s when the fun started — especially when I taught myself the discipline of sticking to the formulated blueprint that my former partner and I created.
I ended up starting another blog — MyTrendybuzz — and this happened out of my need to ditch the bitchiness of celebrity gossip in favor of more enlightening fare that would give me the freedom to expand my reach — based on varied interests.
My blog opened many doors — and of course the timing was perfect since Facebook and Twitter provided the level of exposure that would’ve certainly made my twenties a hell of a lot more industrious — not to mention bearable.
I always knew I had the gift of writing — but nobody wanted to test it out when I was in my prime — and now suddenly in my late thirties — I was enjoying the validation I so desperately craved — back when it mattered the most.
As of now — I’m still figuring out how I want to leverage the options in my view — but my writing career will always be a work in progress. As a young Black woman with so much potential — I basically wasted away — and that treatment is something my White counterparts can’t ever imagine or be forced to endure.
When I relieve the long hard journey to the present — that isn’t even ideal — I burst into laughter when I remember how I almost accepted a job at Vogue — as a receptionist — because of how much I wanted to be in that environment — in any capacity. The HR woman — Linda — was impressed — but concluded that my editorial dreams would get in the way.
She was right. She was also representative of what it was like then and how that hasn’t changed.
Outlets like NPR — are circulating the dismal news about the state of affairs for women of color in media. Despite the fact that we make up a good portion of the U.S. population — we are woefully underrepresented in the key facets of American journalism.
NPR reports that:
Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 6.2 percent of local radio staff and 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, according to this year’s Status of Women in the U.S. Media study, the organization’s annual audit of diverse media voices.
As discouraging as this sounds — it’s also vindicating because it proves that the hard times I faced as a fresh-faced twenty-something had nothing to do with my lack of hustle or applicable skills. I was navigating a hostile environment that contained people of all races — who were reluctant to help me.
Linda — the White HR lady — probably dismissed the notion of digging a little further into my folder of gems because it was probably a challenging task — picturing someone like me doing write ups on Gucci’s resort wear. That would’ve worked out great if I were a White or biracial socialite named — Amanda Haight.
Don’t ask me how I came up with that.
Here’s the thing — if powerful people in powerful positions in media really want women of color to win — they need to either make it happen — or own their bias.
Diversifying newsrooms isn’t that hard to do — if it’s truly an endeavor worth implementing. The problem lies in the fact that making major adjustments in a realm that has been so traditionalized — since inception — isn’t a leap that most are comfortable with and so they just don’t.
And as a result — we’re left with the proof of how action speaks louder than words.
Diversity is the word on the street — but for as long as I can recall — it only evokes empty promises. It was rough a decade ago for women of color and in 2018 — not much has changed — except for the fact that the tools at our disposal make it a lot easier to be armed with the truth in ways that give guilty parties the discomfort of a public outing.
When all is said and done — prominent newsrooms won’t deviate from the standard palette unless the bias that keeps women of color on the other side of the door is defeated with sheer progressiveness and the utmost respect for talent — regardless of ethnicity.
So — it’s either the media accepts it’s long-held prejudice or it actively seeks to lift the ban to afford women like me the win we so rightly deserve.
Either way — the damage is done. I should know — I’m still a victim.