Amanda Parris talks supporting Black voices in media

The CBC host discusses what needs to be done to recruit more Black talent while she steps away for a year

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      Amanda Parris is among the few prominent Black voices in Canadian media. She’s the face of CBC Arts, hosting shows like ExhibitionistsThe FilmmakersFrom The Vaults, and Marvin’s Room. She also produces a regular column called Black Light, championing unsung Black voices in Canada’s arts scene.

      This past summer, media organizations have been responding to the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s death by retaining Black talent and expanding their talent pool. So I can’t help but wonder how the CBC will cope as Amanda Parris takes maternity leave.

      “I’m not quitting,” Parris assures me.

      The Governor General-award-winning writer spoke to us before taking her leave, just as the final season of her first show, The Exhibitionists, goes to air. She describes the overwhelming emotions witnessing Black journalists express their struggle to be heard in media and watching the events unfold this summer, all during her first trimester. And the struggle for Black journalists is something Parris has noticed for years.

      “I’ve seen so many really talented people leaving as a result of not wanting to deal with the realities that they were facing every single day,” says Parris. “I recognize that I work in a bubble in my CBC Arts and CBC Music team. It’s very different from those folks doing news on the daily.”

      Canada’s privacy laws have prevented most media companies from collecting and publishing stats on diversity in regards to hiring. But as a Crown corporation, CBC is mandated to reflect the country’s diversity. In 2018, the public broadcaster reported that 30.1 per cent of new hires were BIPOC, under a new Diversity and Inclusion plan.

      Perhaps it’s not surprising that the rare Black woman in Canadian media entered that space in the most unconventional way. In the podcast below, Parris describes her journey from Toronto’s urban arts scene, working with programs like The Remix Project and Manifesto, into the CBC building.

      “I do feel like I snuck in,” says Parris, whose entry into the CBC as a facilitator for a diversity initiative almost sounds like she stumbled through a trap door. But then she was discovered and developed into one of its most prominent talents.

      The tragedy of this story is that there’s no set path that other BIPOC talent can follow to succeed like Parris. But Parris is among the voices at CBC who is trying to open doors for other Black talent so that they can find their way in.

      Listen to the whole conversation with Amanda Parris in the NOW What podcast below. Or watch a condensed version in the video.

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