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"Arianna Davis is a racial bigot." "Just another Black cry baby pulling the race card." "Why does everything have to be about race?" These are just a few (and some of the least offensive) of the many, many comments I've received from Refinery29 readers on my stories. While I do receive (and appreciate!) so many encouraging, positive comments from a lot of you, unfortunately it's the negative comments that often stick with me — and sometimes even cause me to question why I bother to write about race, especially when it's now incredibly easy to troll and criticize journalists in a way that wasn't possible before the Internet existed.
But instead of just getting frustrated or discouraged, I decided to talk to some other female journalists of color about what it's like writing about race in the digital age — and, specifically, in the Trump era. On the first day of spring here at the Refinery29 offices, we gathered a group of brilliant, opinionated women: MTV Decoded host Franchesca Ramsey, CNN Reporter Tanzina Vega, The Cut's Fashion Market Editor Diana Tsui, Essence Fashion and Beauty Director Julee Wilson, and Emily Shire, a politics editor at Bustle. We talked about the challenges of writing about race, our experiences with racist trolling, and why it's important — now more than ever — to openly talk about race. Because how can we begin to solve problems if we can't even talk about the fact that they exist?
Watch the full video here, or read a transcript of our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity, below.
Let's jump right in with the heavy questions. Do any of you think you have had to change your approach to journalism since the election?
Julee Wilson (Essence): “At Essence we have always put Black women and the Black community first, but this had just been a great reason to get even Blacker, if that makes sense. We’re Black, Black, Blackity Black, and it’s just like a great opportunity to be a little more voice-y, be a little more opinionated, be a little more provocative. I think we’ve always done that, but I think it’s really great that more sites and more publications and more outlets are getting voicier as well with us. You can’t help but be outraged right now, and the media is under attack, and I think it’s up to us to fight back. So, it’s a really great opportunity for us to do that.”
Tanzina Vega (CNN): “I know a thing or two about trying to get race coverage done and then having people question that, and I think now more than ever we have an opportunity where we don’t have to convince people anymore that it’s important. Now we still have to deal with a lot of the institutions that we work in, I’m sure all of us or at least most of us are working within institutions that are still dealing with structural racism and institutional racism, so that hasn’t disappeared overnight, but the need to report on these topics I think has just been highlighted even more.”
Diana Tsui (The Cut): “I’ve noticed, at The Cut we’re really diverse, what I’ve noticed is that in the post-election our Editorial Director Stella Bugbee has been really supportive about us writing about race, us being this voice of dissent in so many ways. One thing she said post-election in this Trump era is that we have to be smart about how we cover race and dissent and just be intelligent and voice-y but also, you know, a little angry. Like have that voice, and especially for me, I definitely didn’t cover race as much as I did pre-election. Stella’s said, ‘You know you’ve gotten more vocal on your Twitter and I feel like this is the time to sort of talk about being an Asian-American woman and it’s not ok to be as complacent.' I feel like there was definitely a complacency in the past and now is not the time for that.”
Emily Shire (Bustle): “I do think Bustle put a real premium on having a diversity of voices even before the election, also being very cognizant of particularly when we wanted a first person perspective, wanted to relate it to the travel ban. It doesn’t effect, it won’t affect me personally, so it would be so much better to have a writer that affects them personally if we want to have an opinion piece on that. I think that’s just become more prominent since the election, but in a variety of cases, not just in things that are necessarily critical of Trump. As you inherently talk about race and ethnicity and transgender rights all the more, you’re going to want to increase the number of perspectives and I think we’re just even more cognizant of that even though that was definitely of value before Trump was elected.”
Franchesca Ramsey (MTV): “For me, I don’t think I’ve changed my approach, I just think that I’ve been more, I’ve been reinvigorated and I’ve just realized the necessity of talking about these issues. I feel like Trump has really emboldened a lot of people to be very vocal about their bigotry, their racism, their sexism, their ignorance, and I think it’s really easy to be bold on the internet when it comes to those issues. So for me, instead of changing the way I talk about it, I am just like increasing the frequency of the way I talk about it and for me really trying to empower my audience so that they’re better equipped to talk about these issues as well, whether it is with trolls on the internet or with their family members at the dinner table, because I think that those conversations are just as important if not more important than the ones we’re wasting our time with trolls online having.”
Tanzina and Emily, you guys are writing primarily for online. Do you feel like it's hard to write without being biased, coming from the perspective of a woman of color?
TV: “I get asked that question a lot because I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, and my answer to that question is always: Let’s look at the question. My previous employer at The New York Times, we had people who were doctors in their previous life writing, covering health, we’ve had white men covering Wall Street, which there are many many many who maybe were attorneys or maybe were, you know, business folks in their own previous lives. So, I think there’s an assumption that when women or people of color or those of us who happen to be both cover an area that we’re also represented in, there’s an assumption of bias and I think we really need to examine why that is. I think we saw that in this last election cycle. We’re covering issues that have either been wrongly covered, not covered, or under covered in ways that have more nuance, in ways that we’re experts in because we understand these issues either personally or interpersonally. I don’t think that covering race necessarily means that you’re an activist. Social justice doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an activist. We still are journalists, we still have journalistic ethics and we still understand where the line is. So, I kind of challenge the question overall.”
ES: “What I would say is that I do think it’s very important to separate opinion from a reported piece and also when you’re doing reported pieces to make sure the facts are correct. I think Bustle has put a very high premium on it because we’re aware of the fact that in the world the media is largely distrusted. Perhaps maybe less so by millennials, but the country at large and that’s for a reason, because they have seen certain biases at different times so you want to be precise, you want to be accurate with your language. You’re a journalist first, now I think that shouldn’t at all dictate what you cover. I think covering the topic of race, a good journalist, regardless of their background, should be able to cover that in an objective way. You know, this was something that was important to me at Bustle, and Bustle was great on following through with it, not to call the first executive order a 'Muslim ban' in an official capacity. Explain out fully who was being targeted, explain why people saw it as a Muslim ban, but also to be clear... You want to be precise with your language up front, but also it leaves you open to a lot of vulnerabilities and attacks when you’re not frankly accurate.”
Diana and Julee, you guys are both in the fashion and beauty worlds. What has your experience been like, especially post-election? Do you feel like there’s a different vibe in the world of fashion and beauty right now?
DT: “So for the first week after the election we just didn’t cover beauty and style. It felt really hard to think about fashion and shopping and beauty, but as time went on we realized that fashion and style now is even more important. It dictates who you are, what you stand for, and also the fact that you are not conforming to their standards. We currently have our spring fashion issue right now which is devoted to non-conformity, whether it’s gender queer, Asian-American, curve, Latina, Black, it matters now more than ever that we talk about style as it encompasses all races, because you have instances like, for example the Vogue scenario where they took Karlie Kloss and put her in basically yellow face. It’s important to talk about style and how things like that are not ok and how representation is so important. Especially for me being Asian-American, you haven’t seen an Asian-American woman on the cover of Vogue. She was on the shared cover, this past diversity issue, but there’s never been a singular cover where you’re like, ‘Oh, there is someone, she looks like me, she gives me hope that I could somehow relate to her and relate to her story.’ So I think it’s still a long time coming for Asian-American representation but hopefully we’re making small steps.”
JW: “We’ve definitely always called out racism and the lack of diversity and cultural appropriation at Essence and we're continuing doing that and doubling down on that. However, I feel like post-election we’ve been trying to get a little self-care in there and try to be as uplifting as possible. Really trying to highlight Black designers, I mean a huge problem within the fashion industry is a lack of diversity when it comes to not only on the runway which is starting to come around with the help of you know, Beth Ann Hardison and The Diversity Coalition and really calling out designers with their casting, but also with the fashion designers make up. I mean less than one percent of designers that you can actually go out and buy in a store like that are on the racks which is ridiculous when you think about how much the Black community spends in fashion and in beauty. So I think for us it’s really about highlighting that talent that’s out there because no one else is doing it the way that maybe they should. Like Franchesca said, with everyone being emboldened to be more racist and being bigger bigots than they were before, it’s our job to now really make a concerted effort to make sure that these people have a platform, these talents have a platform, and Essence is definitely one of them. We want to make sure that you know what? Black designers are out there and Black owned beauty business are out there so you can support and uphold them and make sure that they don’t get forgotten.”
Speaking of people who are more emboldened to basically be straight up racist, there’s a lot of trolling that happens. Francesca, your show touches a lot on race and you get a lot of flack — how you deal with the negative commenters and feedback?
FR: “Overall it’s a lot easier for people to say things online that they would never say in person. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had encounters with people who’ve said negative things about me online, and in person they are completely disarmed. When you’re behind that computer screen you feel the ability to just say what you really think and for positive or for negative, because there are lots of people who share things online that they would not feel comfortable sharing because they’re afraid or they’ve never disclosed certain things. So for me, I’ve been on the internet for a long time, so I feel really good about the fact that I’m in a place now where I realize it’s really more a reflection on them. I mean there are people who devote hours to making videos about me, to photoshopping my face onto images, to dissecting clues about my marriage, which is like if you had a happy marriage you wouldn’t think about mine! (Laughter). You know those are reflections on them and I think that it’s even when you hear people criticize a woman’s appearance or say things about racial inferiority, those are tied to their own self-worth and their own self-esteem and a need to bring you down, especially if you are someone who is a woman who is plus sized and feels good about her body, or a woman of color and that is someone they assume should be less than or feel not proud of their ethnicity or their heritage. So, you really have to kind of remember that people who invest this much time in being negative online, it’s because they don’t have a positive offline life. That’s really hard, especially because it can be really hurtful but that’s really what I try to keep in mind and encourage my audience to remember as well.”
Does the negativity ever get to any of you? Do you ever reach a point where you’re like, ‘maybe I should quit this,’ or are you able to protect your energy in that way?
TV: “I always advocate to turn it off. Turn off your phone, like I have two phones, one is for work and one is personal and on the personal phone I’ve actually taken Twitter off my personal phone and that’s more of a self-care issue for me, because I felt like I was waking up as a journalist and the first thing I would do was just read through Twitter without getting out of bed, and I don’t think that’s healthy. I think whatever’s happening can probably wait until I get out of bed, brush my teeth, and have a coffee. But also for my own self-care, I’ve had to, I engage a lot with people on Twitter. I engage with people I don’t know, I engage with people who want to talk about diversity, race, journalism, media, all these things, but it can be psychological, it can affect you. You know, when someone says something to you like ‘You raza beaner,’ you know, ‘c-word,’ I’ve actually had to make my first reports to Twitter in recent weeks because certain people have said really violent racist things, so I think we have to determine how far we want to go. I think you need to give yourself a break also sometimes.”
JW: “It energizes me when these trolls slide into your DMs or on your Facebook page or on your Instagram pictures, it kind of energizes me and makes me more convicted in my beliefs. It’s also, for me it’s been a real test of self-control because what you want to do is just go off on them but I also know you can’t, as a professional and just like being me, being Julee, I don’t want that to be the experience they have with me, and I also know that some of these people, this might be one of very few if not the only interaction they have with a Black woman, and I can’t allow their stereotypes to be validated. I don’t want to be this angry Black woman who just doesn’t see beyond my Blackness and like I see your situation, I try to be like really compassionate and it’s so funny because a lot of my friends will be like, ‘Why don’t you just tell them to F off?’ and I’m like, ‘because I’m going to show them and say you know what, I can see maybe where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s right.’ Like I actually start to try to have a dialogue with them, which gets them even madder because they just want me to go off so that they can keep spewing their hate, but I think it’s a great lesson in self-control. But also I think it pushes them to see that those stereotypes that they might have about me as a Black woman, as a Black journalist, the opinions I put out in my work aren’t necessarily what they first thought.”
FR: “Can I tag onto that for a second? I love what both of you said about self-care and needing to log off and using your responses to trolls as not necessary, and maybe I’m adding this so correct me if I’m wrong, but sometimes I respond to trolls and it’s really less about them and more about the bystanders who are hearing what I’m having to say, because there are some people you’re never going to change their mind. They believe what they believe, but I will add one caveat to that, I think it’s ok to be angry and I think that anger is a righteous, valid emotion, and I think especially for Black women we spend a lot of time policing ourselves and each other to avoid perpetuating stereotypes about Black womanhood and our emotions and as much as I understand that that is a means of survival, especially when you’re in the workplace and you try not to get shot, like I get it but at the same time I’m very much of the mind that it is ok to be angry and if somebody calls me out on my name, like I’m allowed to be angry and I’m allowed to say, ‘Excuse me, you do not speak to me that way,’ like, ‘I do not stand for that, I’m not comfortable with the way you’re speaking to me,’ or whatever it is. I think you have to kind of figure out the best way to handle it so that you don’t over exert yourself and give them all of your time and all of your energy.”
JW: “Absolutely. I definitely am like, hold up wait a minute, but I’m not like—”
FR: “Sometimes you gotta clap back a little bit.”
JW: “I definitely clap back, but it’s the way in which I clap back, I think that I have to temper it a bit because they don’t need to be coming up on my page and saying those sorts of things, but it’s the way, the delivery, that I want to make sure that they know I’m serious. But at the same time I’m not like this loose cannon.”
TV: “Right, I agree 100%. I think anger is totally valid and Latinas are viewed as hot headed and spicy and woo, we’re just going to go off on any little thing, so yeah I agree that we need to embrace it and we need to show it. There are times when I’ll retweet a troll just to show people this is what I’m dealing with and you know, this is the type of thing that I’m getting told, and then there are time when I’ll just completely ignore it, block or report. But I 100% agree that our anger and our emotions are often policed in a way that no one else’s emotions and anger are, so we need to change that narrative.”
DT: “I feel like for me it’s the exact opposite, I think the perception of Asian-Americans is that we’re passive, we’re docile. So when people come at me I make sure to be equally as angry. I use the block tool a lot, I’ll tweet back and then I’ll block them so that it ends the conversation but I feel the need to be more vocal and more angry because the expectation is for me to sit back and take it. And post-election I’ve been talking a lot about racial issues. What’s interesting to me is that the Asian-American community is very divided right now, so you have the people who are like, ‘Thank you so much for saying what you’re saying,’ and then there’s others who are like, ‘Why are you causing so much trouble? Why don’t you just take it?’ There’s no point, we have to blend in, we have to be compassionate, we have to be loving. So, I don’t think there’s a unified support of being more vocal and just being present.”
ES: “I think also what’s been interesting for me is I’ve gotten, especially recently, a lot of anti-Semitic fueled comments towards me, but it’s been from people who would be I’d say, on the left, that’s been the bigger problem. When I talk about issues of feminism and you know sometimes how Zionism intersects with that, and that’s been more of the issues that I’ve received and I don’t know if it’s talked about as much. When it becomes violent, when it became violent, I reported it to Twitter but I think you’ve got to remind yourself no to be deterred. You’re all writing wonderful powerful things, so remind yourself that like no one would have even bothered writing a tweet about it or trying to get at you if you didn’t really agitate them. You did the best work that journalism can do, which is to change the way that they think and they’re uncomfortable with it and so they’re lashing out instead of dealing with the fact that you’re right or you’ve given them a point that they hadn’t chewed on before. So that’s not really what deters me, I don’t know about you guys but when let’s say someone you actually do respect kind of misrepresents your point, this is something I’ve wrestled with, because Twitter can be really confining too, it’s like I’m not going to say something that thoughtful in 140 characters. Even 540 characters, it’s not like I’m so calm, it’s more like I’m unsure of myself to do a proper Twitter response.”
FR: “Those are the ones that I think that you have to take offline. You know I think that as much as I love the Internet, there’s so much that can get misconstrued...I love gifs but they’re limiting. You know what I mean, there’s body language and there’s just even the act of taking someone to coffee and saying like, ‘Hey, can we talk about this thing that you said that really made me uncomfortable?’ Whereas when you say it online they can project their own tone on to something you’ve said and they can interpret it in completely the wrong way. I’ve had that happen so many times where someone you’re like, ‘Girl, we saw the Black panther documentary together, like how are you saying this?’ You should know better, right? Then you’re just like wait, let me stop and not do this on Facebook or not do this on Twitter and like privately message them and say like, ‘Can we hop on the phone?’ or can we, even hangout on like Google hangout or in person and talk about it? I feel like that is something across the aisle, I mean I feel like for liberal folks especially just speaking as myself like, we have to embrace and do a little bit more because the internet is very limiting in the compassion that is often needed to call our friends in and sometimes call them out, you know what I mean, and like give them a little bit of a like, ‘hey hey hey, that was not appropriate.’ The internet is not always the best place to do that.”
TV: “I agree 100%, I had that experience right after the election with someone that I know really well, also a woman of color, also a journalist. I tweeted something, she responded, I felt like woah, and then I knew this was going to happen, but another outsider, an academic or someone says, ‘Oh look it’s Tanzina and so and so, like ding ding ding, round one,’ and I was like no no no, we’re not doing that. We’re not going to go into this back and forth Twitter thing so you can see us you know, battle it out. I think it was just, we were tired, we were post-election, everyone was just exhausted. We were feeling a lot of feelings and I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Let’s talk about it me and you,’ and that was the best move I could have made because I’m not there to be someone’s spectacle or to be bullied, you know what I mean? That happens a lot on Twitter too and I just refuse to do it. If I’m not dragging or bullying people, I don’t want to be a part of it either, so that’s kind of my personal rule on Twitter.”
I think that the most common comment that we get is 'Why does everything have to be about race, why are you always writing about race?' So how would you guys respond to readers or to people on the internet who feel almost as though constantly writing about race is making it worse?
TV: “It’s only writing about race when we’re talking about Black and Brown people, right? That seems to be the dividing line, and I’m like well have we not, I mean, I just have, I get told that all the time. 'You’re dividing.' So I had an example where my Black working class story came out and it really pointed out, with this whole narrative of the white working class that’s fine, but let’s look at the numbers of wealth in Black and Latino communities, let’s look at the percentages, I had hard data and a lot of anecdotes and experts and all that, and I had a reader email me and say, ‘Look, I’m white, lost a lot in the recession, my house is underwater, I’m not convinced that your story is you know one that I can really understand because I’ve also been impacted.’ I said, ‘I get it, we’re not talking about you personally,’ and that’s what I think a lot of people need to understand. When we talk about race, for these stories we’re talking about hundreds of years of systemic oppression, of history of systemic institutional bias and racism, it is in the numbers, it is in the data, that is why it’s being covered, it is in healthcare, it is in housing, it is in all of these areas that we write about, all of them across the board. So, to suddenly say that talking about these issues are making it worse, that’s absolutely incorrect. So I emailed the reader back and I said, ‘Great, you want data? Here you go.’ I mean I sent him like a three paragraph email really, and I didn’t, I wasn’t angry at him because he asked. He was like, ‘I don’t get it.’ You don’t get it? No problem, let me explain it to you, you know, and I took the time out because I felt that was an important way to really be receptive to that question that I get all the time and respond to it in a thoughtful way, but at the end of the day we can’t, this country was founded on a very complicated history and that hasn’t gone away.”
FR: “What I always try to remind people is that race is not the issue, it’s like the system of oppression that treats people differently because of their race, and I have yet to find a problem that goes away because you don’t talk about it. And I really try to use the analogy of well, if you went to your doctor and you said, ‘Oh my god, I’m sick and I feel terrible,’ and your doctor said, ‘Just stop thinking about it, it’ll go away.’ You’d be like, ‘No, can you fix this thing? Like I feel terrible, I need a solution, how do we figure this out? Let’s do some studies, do you have some data, do you have some medicine I could try?’ It is the same approach when it comes to systems of oppression. Like we have to talk about the problem to understand that it’s there because there are other people that don’t experience that problem. How can I help you fix something if I’ve never heard of this problem and I don’t understand what your experience is like, and I also remind people that you don’t have to participate in any conversation that you don’t want to or that you are not equipped to participate in. If you want to talk about something else go for it, but this is what I’m speaking about and I am a grown adult and this is what is important to me and I think that sometimes like you said, it is people expressing their discomfort and they are saying, ‘What you are talking about is shining a light on something that I was not prepared to talk about and makes me feel uncomfortable.’ Again, it’s really a reflection of them and not really a reflection of you.”
DT: “To go off of that, I think every person that says, ‘I’m uncomfortable,’ five other people will message you privately and be like, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you for talking about this, thank you for giving me a voice and thank you for helping me talk about this with people in my life. So, I always think about them before I think about the person who is like, ‘Why does everything have to be about race?’ It is, because you wake up every day and you look in the mirror and you’re like, ‘I’m a woman of color, race is here.’”
JW: “I was just going to add that some, I’ve been questioned to about like, ‘Well why do we need an Essence, why do you need a magazine dedicated to Black women?’ It’s because for so long as Black women, an experience for us reading mainstream magazines is we have to do this mental gymnastics every single time opening up a magazine saying, ‘Ok that’s great, there’s a whole story about like blushes for spring, not one of them is shown on a Black person.’ So now I have to figure out well, ok, you recommend this but which one works for me and like there’s no real true representation. Essence is like a haven where you can open that magazine and see women of all different colors, all different skin tones because there needs to be diversity in diversity, like you can’t just give me like Lupita and think you’re talking to Black women, and you can’t give me Halle Berry and think you’re talking to Black women as well. We come in so many different shades, our hair textures are different, locs, natural hair or you know straight weave, whatever it is, there’s so much diversity in our diversity. So it’s a place where you don’t have to do all that work, or like oh that’s a beautiful purple dress but what does it look like on a black woman? If we’re constantly craving that sort of thing then you need places like Essence, Hannah Magazine, CRWN Magazine, all of these amazing publications and websites, Blavity, that are coming out to show the beauty in our diversity and you know, just suggestions and stories that are for us, by us.”
DT: “I agree with that too just because I also went through that thing where you look through a magazine and you’re like eye shadow, what happens when you have a mono-lid? What happens when you don’t have a crease, like all the issues that come with beauty in traditional magazines also apply to Asian-Americans. We could be pale, we could be dark, there’s also race and class issues and I don’t think we’re there yet. We don’t have an Essence that truly represents us, I’m friends with some girls, they run a magazine called Banana and it’s wonderful, it’s for Asian-American millennials, but we don’t have that and I think developing that voice and developing, it’s up to my generation and the generation after me to be this voice just because our parents are immigrants and we didn’t have that. So, I think talking about race, especially for my generation, is to give a voice to people who don’t see themselves in magazines and don’t have, even have a magazine devoted to their concerns and their issues.”
TV: “There was a magazine called Sassy, I’ll never forget the way I found out about Sassy was my mom bought a copy for me because the cover model had my nose and I had never seen anyone in a magazine that had a nose that looked like mine, that wasn’t like this thin aquiline nose that was sort of broad and like my hair texture, and she was like, ‘I don’t even know what this is but you have to see it,’ because she knew it was so painful for me to look at all these magazines and see mostly blonde, very thin white women and none of them looked like me. So, it was like, I’ll ever forget that moment of looking in a magazine and seeing on the cover someone that had remotely familiar features, so go Sassy.”
ES: “I think it’s really important in addition to having the Essences which serve a critical role, look at Bustle and other publications that are not tailored to represent one specific voice, they need to be very careful and cognizant of representing a diversity of voices. That’s a huge responsibility, and I think this is something that’s a little different about the journalism landscape in general and not just because it’s post-Trump, we’ve been going in a direction where it’s not as much reporting as much as we want to give people and we make it clear, it’s an opinion it’s their voice, and doing that, like I shouldn’t be the one writing about race. Like make sure that you’ve got a staff of writers and you’ve got the best experts and voices who can weigh in on that in a good way, because I think that’s increasingly a responsibility of a reputable publication regardless of if it’s supposed to, if it’s proposing that it speaks for a certain demographic or targeting a certain demographic. I think it’s just something really important for people to be cognizant of and to make sure that they’re getting those voices and their not speaking for a group that’s not their own.”
JW: “I feel like I’ve been on the kind of damage control side of a lot of that too, where it’s like, oh we’ve had this written but like it’s not, we can’t pub this, or something got pubbed, it’s like had you talked to a Black girl or had you had a Black girl on your staff or, like you would have known you can’t do that. Even simple things like dreadlocks, we don’t call them dreadlocks, they’re locs and it’s locs, not locks. You know, like things like that where it’s like, if you don’t have a Black girl, people step into that shit, sorry. If you don’t have any diversity on your staff then you don’t know that, or like if you’re having someone write about an afro that has no idea what an afro is or like what that means to my culture or what that means to my style and like just what that means in the Black community then like it’s gonna fall flat, it’s not going to be good and just don’t do it.”
DT: “When we had the Met Gala that was China themed I was like, ‘Oh crap, here we go, let’s see how much this gets bastardized, let’s see who uses the word oriental.’ Shockingly over the weekend I won’t name the outlet, someone use the word oriental in a post with an Asian woman talking about her brand and I was like, ‘You guys, like why, why is this happening still?’”
FR: “I will say the conspiracy theorist in me sometimes thinks that these outlets are trolling for clicks. Like sometimes I do honestly think about it. There will be some random no named fashion blog that you’ve never heard of before and then suddenly everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, did you see what they did? This post was so racist, retweet.’ Everyone’s like, ‘Girl, post this on your Facebook page,’ and I’m like yeah, let me just send them hundreds of thousands of views to this horrible racist thing that they did. Granted Twitter dragged them, but they probably got the most page views that month than they’ve ever gotten, and so I try to remind my audience to really be careful about how you use your voice when it comes to calling out these issues because they absolutely will be taken to task but we can be critical of media and outlets without like propping them up and helping them, and the YouTube community especially, we’ve seen a lot of people saying very anti-Semitic things. We’ve seen people doing Black face, we’ve seen all types of perpetuating sexual harassment and unfortunately what these articles do is they say, ‘Watch this terrible video where this guy is a racist,’ and it’s like, thanks for giving him millions of views. We can be critical of it without helping them be seen.”
ES: “I have friends who I have spoken to how they react to Twitter trolls who get it far worse than I do and a lot of them do tend to be in the camp of like, I don’t want to retweet even to expose because I think it gives them more attention, but they’ll do the screenshot and like, how do you guys feel about dong the screenshot? You don’t give them the attention, you don’t give them the clicks but you can also point to the truth and have, still have the debate.”
FR: “You can do a gif set of a video instead of actually linking to the video. You could do screenshots from the video, you can explain what happened, I think it’s personal choice when it comes to how you deal with that, but I am of the mind that sometimes when you see the same site over and over again posting a picture of Whoopi Goldberg and being like, ‘Oh, that’s Oprah.’ You guys know that’s not Oprah, but then everyone’s going to drag you and get excited about it, Sometimes I think they don’t know, but sometimes it will be more beneficial for us to get dragged by Twitter and we will be trending for a day and everyone will be going to our site to read this terrible thing we did and then the internet news cycle, next week they won’t remember and then we can do it again.”
So what is your advice for those situations where people just don’t know? Like I’ll be real, sometimes this happens at Refinery29 where an article will go up and I’ll be like ‘Come on y’all!’ but it’s a big company, AND we put out a lot of stories every day. So what can media organizations and people in general do to try to avoid those kinds of mistakes?
TV: “As someone who covers this stuff and has worked in two major mainstream media outlets, I think it’s important to have the uncomfortable conversations if you can before something gets published. I think that’s an open space where you can ask the weird questions, the not so great questions and just, let’s talk about what this is before we go and publish it. I think if something's already published it’s your right within the company to raise a red flag if you think that that’s warranted. If there’s language in a headline for example that you know is probably an inaccurate, I’ve seen people do it, I’ve done it, where I can send a note and say, ‘Hey, totally get the intent of this but just, you know I think this comes across in a certain way,’ and I think you’re appreciated and respected for that kind of work because you’re helping the organization look better and do better.”
FR: “I think also just owning up to your mistakes, I mean mistakes are going to happen and I think one of the things I’ve learned from my mistakes is that when you really make a genuine apology and you take responsibility for what you’ve done and then you put in steps to actually make sure that doesn’t happen again, your audience is a little bit more forgiving. I think too often on the internet I think people just delete things and they think that that is enough and it’s really not enough and I think that again, because it is so rare that people take responsibility when they make these mistakes that in my experience, people are like really like, ‘Oh wow, that was super refreshing that you just took responsibility for whatever that problem was because mistakes are bound to happen.' Unfortunately, you can’t catch everything, no one is perfect and I like to say to my audience like I am learning too and if you are open about the fact that you’re part of that learning experience then I think more people will be open to being corrected when they screw up as well.”
ES: “I think that’s a critical difference between it’s not a troll it’s a well intention, forget about whether it’s your employer or not, if it’s a friend, if it’s a family member, approaching it more like, ‘Hey, did you happen to know that fact?’ I am shocked sometimes and then I take a step back about how little people know about certain topics, and then I’m like, ‘Oh no, it’s because you’re like an obsessive geek about like this specific niche issue within a larger set of movements and it didn’t get publicity and of course you just need to take a step back and explain things.’ I think when you approach things that way, that’s just, it’s so different from the trolling experience. That’s not someone trying to get at you, I think being open to the fact that ok, someone, you need to have a discussion, you need to talk about why this wasn’t correct but you approach it very differently.”
I have one last question for you guys. We’re talking about all the dark sides of being a journalist right now, but what are you hopeful for in the future?
JW: “I think just people are going to be more woke, like this is just like a revolution for the media, us being attacked by our President is allowing more eyes and more focus on what we’re doing and so there’s a heightened responsibility on our part to make sure we’re putting out the type of work that is, that we’re proud of and can be respected and trusted, but you know the whole stay woke moment, if you’re not already woke and you’re not going to stay there, then you’re going to become woke and build that army of woke-ness. So, I’m really excited about the knowledge and the conviction that we’re kind of inspiring.”
TV: “I’m excited about the art that’s going to come out of this. I think we’re going to see amazing, whether it’s, I know we’re looking at federal cuts in funding to the NEA, I’m not missing that,but I think art is created in a moment, in moments like these that just speaks to so many people. I think we’re going to see great theater, great music, great films, I mean Get Out, whoa, right. That’s doing amazing and I never thought that that would do, a film like that, I don’t think a lot of people though it would do as well as its doing and Hidden Figures, I just think we’re going to see an explosion in creative arts. I also think we’re going to see wonderful writing, this is just going to be a really creative period and I hope that people stay with that and I know art is expensive and I know it can be difficult to penetrate, it’s a difficult world to penetrate, but stay with those feelings and make amazing work.”
DT: “I have to agree with you that this is a period where you are either woke already or you will become woke. I think on our team we have some great people, we are a really diverse fashion team. We’re doing pieces that really matter to us and we’re getting an array of voices on The Cut and just talking about fashion and style in ways that haven’t been discussed before and trying to reach these populations. Also, personally on a demographic level, I’m noticing that Asian-Americans are caring more and being more politically active, I’ve noticed they're attending the rallies, they’re donating to causes, they’re just speaking up and becoming allies and acknowledging their own internalized racism. So I think this is a chance for my generation to sort of be this guiding voice that we weren’t before.”
ES: “It’s exciting that people are paying attention to the news a lot more, I think that’s going to produce a lot of critical thinking and also really good reported pieces. I think, you know maybe this is a bit cynical but maybe what we’ve seen from this election is that there definitely is an interest when people thought media and news coverage was dying and going down a certain way and that people weren’t going to be interested in following up on policy issues and tracking traditional White House reporting. There is, it's maybe going about it in different ways, but I think it makes you really excited to be a journalist at this time, there’s a wealth of investigative reporting to be done, a wealth of interesting commentary pieces to be written. There’s so much to be done, there’s so much good journalism that’s going on and to be had and that makes me excited.”
FR: “I speak at a lot of colleges and it is so inspiring for me to meet not just people that watch my content but just young people who are really fired up about what’s going on in the world right now and I feel like especially because of social media young, people kind of get a bad rap of being self-absorbed and just like always on their phone, but I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten a really great tweet and then I went to the person’s profile and they were 14 years old and I just thought like if I had been exposed to these things at 14, like I would be the president. Well I mean, I have a few more years, I’m not 35 yet, but I just see these like really smart young people on the internet who are being exposed to conversations way earlier than I was and as scary as the world is right now I just think, ‘Wow, in two years these kids are going to be able to vote and it’s going to be a game changer,’ and I’m actually really excited about that, 2018 midterm elections!”