In the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the spotlight on racism against black people in America is shining bright and media organizations en masse are calling for pitches from black writers and multimedia creatives to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement and all things related to blackness.
On one hand, this is a great thing because black people should be hired to tell our own stories. Our voices should be amplified and we should be given these platforms to speak truth to power. On the other hand, the mere fact that these editors are scrambling for black writers suggests that they don’t have enough (or any at all) already on their payroll. This leads me to wonder; Where have they been? Editors should have already been prioritizing black writers. Even when times are virtually calm, our stories are worth telling and our voices are worth hearing.
As a black writer myself, I can attest to how difficult it is in this industry to get jobs as a staff writer or to get pitches approved as a contributor. We have reached a point where we are forced to create our own spaces (shout out QMC!) because all too often the white and male dominated media industry shuts us out. And when we are hired to write for mainstream publications, we’re often advised to water down the passion we pour into our stories or in other words, tone down our blackness to fit the “voice” of the outlet.
I previously worked for a small publication that was looking to hire more writers at one point. The publisher asked staffers to refer people we knew for the job. I pushed to get a fellow black writer and friend on the team. They interviewed her and reviewed her writing samples, but ultimately the publisher decided that she and I had such similar writing styles and interests, so hiring her wouldn’t bring anything new to the team. This, to me, was just coded language for, “We already have our black voice and don’t need another.” For the record, this excuse was never given as a reason to not hire more white people. I worked there for three years and only two other black people were ever hired; one was a social media manager and the other was a lifestyle blogger. Both of them were let go after very brief stints with the company.
Just last year, I was asked in a job interview my opinion on how newsrooms could diversify their content, a question to which the answer seemed so obvious — diversify the newsrooms. Simply put, newsrooms need people of different races, ages, genders, economic backgrounds, nationalities, etc. to bring nuanced perspectives to their coverage. This is not some new phenomenon, this is a fact that has always been true and it’s incredibly alarming how many publications seem to be just realizing it. Are we supposed to applaud them for finally doing what they should have been doing all along?
In the words of a wise man, back then they didn’t want us, now we hot, they all on us! But our value is not relative to a moment in time when we’re at the center of international conversation. Black writers are needed ALL. THE. TIME. PERIODT.
Hire us, listen to us, value us, PAY us.