I promised myself to write a new blog every day for at least a month. This is blog number three and I already wanted to skip it. Not because I don’t know what to write, more like the opposite: my head is full of thoughts and ideas but there is also a washing machine waiting to get fixed, a newsletter that needs to go out, an accountant wanting admin details, an interview to finish and dinner to cook.
And I didn’t even mention the petition yet that I’ve written and published together with Alan Soon yesterday about the reporting of CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward in Myanmar. I reached out to Alan because I felt it’s time to make a global statement about parachute journalism. By the time of this writing the petition already has 86 signatures. My head was occupied with it almost all of my Tuesday. Not just the writing of the statement but also the adrenaline of putting my name under something that says:
“This form of reporting is part of a widespread idea in Western journalism that something isn’t true until a white Western journalist reports on it. A culture of whiteness and systemic racism lies underneath these beliefs.”
It is completely in line with my goal for inclusive journalism: to call out practices that are incorporated into a system that urgently needs to change. And to be an example for white people to take initiative in transformation instead of looking at people of colour to solve the problem. The responses we get are encouraging, I’m proud that we followed through and got it out there.
Even though it’s clear to me that this is what inclusive journalism is about, I got challenged in a podcast this week by someone saying that the word “inclusive” to her didn’t have a good meaning in the context of antiracism. She explained how she interprets “inclusive” as becoming part of an existing system whereas she beliefs the system itself should change. I couldn’t agree more with her but I also found it hard to explain why I’d chosen “inclusive” after all.
You need an embodied experience to change Behavior
First of all, I also think that a big part of the change in our society in terms of antiracism comes from new initiatives founded by Black people and people of colour. Three decades of debates and reports about media diversity show that the existing system is changing at a snail’s space. The revolution isn’t going to be diversity training, so to speak. But I also discovered why that is. It’s because in all the efforts we do we tend to focus mostly on hiring more people of colour and flying in (white) scientists to execute unconscious bias training. Sure, there aren’t bad intentions involved, it’s just not going to be effective enough.
So what does work? From my study in holistic lifestyle coaching and my yoga and Vipassana meditation practices combined with a lived experience of being a white woman in a multicultural organization, I know that behavior change can only happen successfully after an embodied experience. And for white people in Western societies it means directly getting confronted with the uncomfortable feelings connected with the process. There is no comfortable short cut and the solutions we’ve been looking at so far don’t aim for honest embarrassing conversations and unpleasant self-reflection.
While I’m writing this I get a critical response on our petition, from a white female journalist. She asks some relevant questions but big part of her writing is about the fact that Clarissa Ward is a respected and talented journalist (“look at her recent reports from Russia (the Navalny poisoning) and Syria”!), an expert on world affairs and “CNN’s chief foreign correspondent!”. To me this is the same defence mechanism I witness so often with white people. I’ve been there too. Instead of asking ourselves critical questions, we immediately point out why someone else is wrong. The arguments we’re using though are often not so strong. I mean, does Ward’s status mean we can’t question any of her actions? Besides that, the petition isn’t a personal attack on this talented journalist. We focus on a system where parachuting journalists is part of and that needs to change.
This is what I mean by choosing the comfortable short cut and skipping the introspection.
I believe me being white and Western helps to get that message across. I know it’s not easy to see the world through a different lens than we grew up with. But it’s worth it. We don’t lose anything significant in the long term by trying it out. It just means we need to give up certain things we’re attached to for no meaningful reason.
And the practice of letting go of attachment helps me to write this blog on a day where so many other things are screaming for my attention. I trust that everything happens at the right time. This needed to be said first.
(Read about the six characteristics of Inclusive Journalism on Medium.)