I work on Q+A’s social media and I see racist abuse every day. You might be shocked by who’s writing it

May 30, 2023
Racism word cloud Image: iStock

For the past few years, I’ve worked as the social media producer for a high-profile show, one that has made headlines the past couple of weeks after our beloved presenter had to take a break.

During my time at Q+A, I can tell you one thing: If you’re surprised by the conversations about racism, then you might be part of the problem.

My role involves creating content and moderating the Q+A social media pages, and sometimes even ABC News.

Stan isn’t on social media, so his critics often come to our page to express their rage.

Q+A encourages open debates and conversations, but the vile things I see on a regular basis are astounding.

Politicians and public figures call out Twitter and call it a cesspool, but for the hundreds of vile comments that appear on Twitter, there are thousands more on Facebook and YouTube and other platforms.

You have the faceless trolls, but you also see profiles that use photos of their dogs or children making racist remarks on the colour of Stan’s skin; or accounts who post about “spreading kindness” and the like also spitting out bigoted takes when we have someone Indigenous or queer on the panel.

If you knew what some of your relatives and close friends are saying behind the comfort of their screens, you would be horrified.

What does it mean to be anti-racist?

“Racism can have the kindest face,” writes Stan Grant in his book, The Queen is Dead, at one of the sections where he speaks about his experience as a Wiradjuri man growing up.

It is a lesson I already know, but it’s a constant reminder whenever I’m moderating these comments.

You could blame it on the anonymity that social media brings that allows people to express views that they would never be brave enough to utter in real life.

Or maybe the algorithms that keep people in their bubble, especially ones like Facebook where there’s hardly any accountability since it’s not so public-facing.

The truth is few people call out those they know, because it is easier to hold strangers or organisations accountable.

A true ally of is someone who speaks up against injustice, even when the person they’re making uncomfortable is someone they know.

Sometimes the people who commit acts of racism are people you love — and isn’t it a true testimony of how much you care for a person when you support them to become better people instead of enabling or ignoring bad behaviour?

‘Casual racism’ is still racism

Some people have this idea that racism is a thing of the past because they don’t see the aggressive kinds of racism or segregation happening at the same scale.

But everyday racism (or “casual racism”) is the kind that isn’t overt. It can be hidden behind smiles and jokes, but it is still racism.

For me, personally, it comes in the form of the people speaking to me slowly, and then becoming surprised that I know English or that I’m articulate and outspoken despite the scarf around my head.

It’s the friends whose partners make and laugh at jokes about non-white people, or claim that their parents don’t like their partners because “our cultures are just too different” (when you know that they wouldn’t be as critical if their partners were “white”).

It is the editors and supervisors who reduce us to our identities and relegate us to writing about our communities, while whispering in the background that “it’s not going to rate well”.

It’s having journos my age, mainly women of colour, sharing stories of their anguish because their own supervisors don’t take their ideas seriously and hide behind kind smiles and condescending words, or speak to them differently when there’s no one around.

This form of racism is just as insidious, in fact maybe even more so.

People get defensive when their “harmless” words and actions are called out and hide behind good intentions and words like “political correctness”, “woke-ism” and “people can’t take a joke”.

If you’ve reacted this way before, ask yourself why that was your response.

Bigotry is more than just hurt feelings or name-calling. As a person with privilege, you might have your feelings hurt, but you’re still living in a power structure built with you in mind.

White privilege doesn’t mean that you never go through challenges. But even in those spaces of hardships, whether it’s in terms of socio-economics, gender, sexuality, disability, white people still hold power and have the loudest voices.

Is the media to blame?

In his last address on Q+A before he took a break, Stan Grant says that he’s part of the problem and that “too often, we [the media] are the poison in the bloodstream of our society”.

“We in the media must ask if we are truly honouring a world worth living in.”

It’s interesting to see how media organisations have responded following Stan’s break. They’ve ranged from promises and apologies, to rival media organisations blaming each other.

It’s annoying to see journalists and media organisations cheapen Stan’s story by using it as an excuse to get clicks instead of taking this moment to reflect on themselves.

Part of reporting with impartiality is looking into the biases within ourselves and the spaces we operate in.

As members of the media, it is our duty to do that for the people we write for.

We can’t just shift the blame to social media platforms and their owners. It’s our responsibility too, whether we’re a public broadcaster or privately owned.

It is not enough to hire diverse faces when our voices are either silenced, or are only seen as valid when they echo the status quo.

Too often diverse journalists and talents are reduced to quotas to reach and show companies are progressing.

The conversation needs to be about not just accountability but also the current structures within the spaces we operate in.

The reality is that newsrooms still become less diverse the higher up you go. Editors and other decision makers are still mainly straight, male and white.

Don’t lie, you do see colour

Whether you’re someone who claims to be anti-racist and “not see colour”, or an editor or someone in a position of power in media, we are all complicit.

We all come with our own biases, ones that are sometimes unconscious.That’s mirrored in the systems and institutions we operate in.

When we’re confronted with the experiences of First Nations’ people or non-white people in Australia, the conversation can turn ugly, partly because it’s riddled with guilt.

Guilt isn’t a pleasant feeling, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be constructive.

Talking about race doesn’t have to be divisive – in fact, it could be what brings us together to healing and justice.

And we can never achieve that if our fingers are pointed at everyone else but ourselves.


Republished from abc.net.au May 28, 2023

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