An All-White Panel Debating Trump's Racism Isn't Just Wrong, It's Irresponsible

Canada is full of racialized experts whose voices are never heard when we need them the most, argues Janaya Khan

by
For CTV’s Question Period, Conrad Black, Laura Stone, Craig Oliver and Robert Fife debate Trump's racist comments.
For CTV’s Question Period, Laura Stone, Robert Fife, Craig Oliver and Conrad Black came together to debate Trump’s racist comments

Seriously, Canadian media. Seriously?

Are we just going to keep allowing Canadian mainstream media to be more than a decade behind acceptable practices when it comes to discussing race?

Last Sunday, CTV’s Question Period aired a panel with Conrad Black (yes, you’re reading that right), Laura Stone, Craig Oliver and Robert Fife where they tepidly debated whether or not Donald Trump was racist. For those not familiar with these four: Black—a Canadian newspaper publisher who was charged with multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice in 2005 (and later convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice)—appears to have re-branded as a Trump apologist; Stone covers Parliament Hill for the Globe and Mail; Oliver is chief political commentator for CTV News and has been reporting since 1957; and Fife, another Canadian political journalist, is the Globe’s Ottawa bureau chief.

The panel was brought together to discuss a recent meeting between Trump, senators and House members on immigration earlier that week. At the meeting, Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as “shithole countries,” and claimed that immigrants from countries like Norway would be more desirable.

First of all, Africa is a continent.

Secondly, it is imperative that we understand the absurdity of having an all-white panel weigh in on Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant comments about Black and Brown people. Especially when Canada is full of racialized experts whose voices are never heard when we need them the most.

I can just imagine how the editorial meeting went when they were deciding how to put together a panel to speak on the topic of racism.

Black Twitter of the North was not having it and quickly took CTV to task for its gross oversight. What started out as a tweet thread from activist and scholar Sandy Hudson immediately gained momentum as more and more people became incensed.

This is not the first time that Canadian media has failed when it comes to representing the issues that people of colour face. Last year, Canadian media outdid itself when a group of white editors, columnists and execs—including employees of Rogers Media, FLARE’s parent company—discussed, in a late-night Twitter exchange, what they called the Appropriation Prize, and actually committed to throwing their own money toward an award for authors and creators who best appropriated other people’s cultures and identities.

This discussion is just one of many instances in which Canadian media has let us down. Editors remain the most powerful people in media, and for all that Canada claims to be different, Canadian editors are overwhelmingly older white men. The slight shift in forward-facing personalities hasn’t changed that fact; despite having more high-profile people of colour, CBC staff still remains 90-percent white.

When I came across the CTV panel in my Twitter feed, I went from curious to angry to disgusted. To have an all-white panel discussing Black issues made it very clear to me that no one at CTV News was concerned about disappointing their Black audience. No one cares about disappointing Black people—and that is both offensive and one of the greatest battles I face as a Black activist—and this needs to change. 

But Trump’s anti-Black comments aren’t just offensive, they are dangerous. Since Trump has come into office, Haitians have been fleeing America, risking life and limb in the hopes of finding sanctuary in Canada. Nearly half of those seeking asylum by border crossing overall are Haitian.

And since his “shithole” comment, Trump has removed Haiti from the list of nations eligible for temporary work visas. Thousands of Haitians are in need of asylum, but only 10 percent receive it from the Canadian government once they cross the border. Canada has always been limited in its support of Haitians; the small protection afforded through temporary refuge due to the 2010 earthquake expired in 2016. As of November last year, 742 Haitians were on Canada’s deportation list.

CTV’s dismissal of Black voices is especially egregious under these circumstances. How can you have a segment that’s meant to address racist comments made against Haitian nationals, yet feature no people of Haitian descent on the panel? Particularly when there is a crisis brewing around displacement of Haitian peoples along the Canadian border.

Racism operates in many ways. Most people can recognize it when someone like Trump makes overtly anti-Black and anti-immigrant statements, but racism is also present in the continued exclusion of racialized people in the rooms that shape national discourse and understanding. This silencing of racialized voices is different but equally as dangerous as racist tropes.

Racism is about power. Instead of getting a long overdue seat at the table, people of colour are continuously being overlooked in favour of their white counterparts. Canadian media’s practices are embarrassingly white, and to be quite frank, boring. Who actually wants to hear a bunch of white people talk about something they have a very limited understanding of and no real investment in?

In her tweet thread, Hudson compiled a list of Black students, professors, lawyers, political commentators and authors that kept growing as more people got involved and added names. She was able to do this in a matter of minutes, so what’s CTV’s excuse?

And though it was in response to a lazy panel, this dialogue is so much bigger than an underwhelming segment on a Sunday afternoon. An intervention is needed; the landscape of Canadian media needs to change if it wants to actually be responsive to the times that we live in.

The list was called the Black Rolodex on Twitter. I strongly urge Canadian media outlets to use it for the resource that it is—or risk becoming a joke to the very people it needs to stay relevant.

Janaya Khan is a lecturer, author and co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto.

More from Janaya Khan:
“Don’t Kid Yourself, White Nationalism Is on the Rise in Canada Too”
Janaya Khan: “Activism Is Not Glamorous Work. It’s Heart Work” 

Janaya Khan of Black Lives Matter on Building a More Inclusive Pride

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.