By Mo Dhaliwal
On Friday, September 20th, I was invited to speak on a Global News segment of Focus BC, hosted by Sonia Deol, to discuss racism and Prime Minister Trudeau’s blackface scandal. As we were setting up for the remote interview, I overheard prominent staff at Global make a blackface joke in the newsroom. Later, Global B.C. decided to kill this segment and silence my voice to hide the incident.
I was invited as part of the Focus BC panel to add racialized voices to an already teeming public discourse. As we prepared for the panel, I heard some chatter in my earpiece.
“I’m getting Keith. He’s just getting his blackface on.”
Just like that, someone had reduced the scale and importance of racism to a joke. I went into the panel seething. During the exchange, I made the point that, sadly, Trudeau’s blackface images were normalizing blackface jokes among the most insensitive people in our communities. I stated that casual racism was being so normalized that even someone in Global’s own newsroom saw fit to make a blackface joke as we were setting up for that very segment.
I didn’t realize that calling out a racist joke made by Global staff would cause this segment to be censored.
Later, I received a message from the reporter who had made the racist joke. It read “...hoping we can talk. I’m deeply sorry for my incredibly insensitive comments earlier today.” I sat with that text message for a while as I was occupied in meetings, missing calls from this reporter and later Michael Hennigar, a producer at Global B.C.
I returned the call and after he had gotten through stammering out apologies and explaining how bad he felt, I told him quite honestly that his apology was clichéd. I expressed my frustration at seeing racist portrayals and xenophobic discourse being normalized and then hearing lame apologies as if they make up for rending our social fabric.
I made the same point to him that I made during the segment: an apology without remedy is lip-service. I asked him what he was willing to do to make up for this. How would he make up for the work that he had obviously never done to check his own privilege or unconscious biases?
I asked when the episode would be airing and he informed me that it was “up to the bosses” and that I should call his producer, Michael Hennigar, to discuss the matter. Lengthy conversations with Michael and later with Jill Krop, news director at Global B.C., confirmed what I already knew. Global was about to hide their own racist incident by killing the segment and silencing my voice.
Jill Krop seemed to think that the fact that they had apologized and disciplinary action had been taken by HR against one individual was sufficient and the matter was closed. Both Michael and Jill told me in no uncertain terms that the Focus BC segment would not air and they would not publicly acknowledge what had happened.
They both cited CRTC regulations as the reason for not airing the segment. All I had done was point out the phenomenon of blackface jokes and the incident that had just occurred in the Global B.C. newsroom. Considering the fact that we had been invited to discuss a racist act by the prime minister, how did my comment on blackface jokes suddenly become a CRTC violation?
I tried my best to explain to them the inherent hypocrisy of inviting a group of racialized people on air to discuss a racist act. Then, when one of Global’s own staff is caught making a racist joke, to silence these voices, to cancel the segment, is just another example of systemic racism.
Calling out racism is good and productive, unless the lens turns on you—then censorship and hiding from accountability became Global’s first reaction. Jill Krop seemed to contradict herself in repeatedly assuring me that Global had no intention of “sweeping the matter under the rug”, even though her next statement was that this particular segment would never be aired and that Global would not publicly discuss what had transpired.
And herein lies the problem. I was informed by her that Global has a “diversity and inclusion committee” that meets regularly. I’m also told by others in media that Jill is one of the good ones who intends to invite diverse perspectives on gender, racial, and cultural dimensions. But what do we do when allies like these forget their privilege and the harm they are doing when it comes time to act at pivotal moments? Anyone can sit in a boardroom and wax poetic about diversity and inclusion—god knows that is going on in plenty of boardrooms. But, who is going to stand up when it counts? Who is going to do the necessary work when an opportunity presents itself?
This is the reason why there is so much frustration with Justin Trudeau. People like me have zero expectations of someone like Andrew Scheer, who stands by candidates alternately making racist or homophobic statements and denying the climate crisis. He and the Conservative Party cannot disappoint us, because we know they are against us. We have no expectations. But, with Trudeau, I was one of the ones in 2015 loudly proclaiming that I wished I had voted for him. He and his brand had sold us on a beautiful vision of Canada.
Since then, that vision has increasingly been revealed as mirage, a constructed hallucination of brand-building to appease the young, progressive Canadian public. So, when Prime Minister Trudeau, a supposed ally, screws up so abysmally, we are disappointed in him. We are disappointed in the structures we live within. We are disappointed by the fact that someone like him can wear the progressive veneer, without doing the work to uncover his own biases, his own potential for racism—intentional or not.
So, too with Global. It’s not even a matter of that Focus BC segment getting cut. The expectation set by Global was that there was an interest in the viewpoints of racialized people—that we had voices and perspectives that were valuable. But, when it became a choice between showing integrity and making room for the voices of racialized people, or persisting with structurally racist reactions in an act of self-preservation, Global chose to kill the segment, silence my voice, and deny its own racism.
Trudeau’s racist history isn’t an isolated incident. The racist joke at Global News isn’t an isolated incident. And Global’s move to hide a racist act isn’t an isolated incident. These are all symptoms of a deeper, more insidious disease.
In rooting out this disease, I would call on all allies and would-be allies—when the time comes—to do the just and fair thing, even at the cost of their own power and privilege. Otherwise, you may as well disband your diversity and inclusion committees. They are meaningless.
After this article appeared, Global B.C. invited Dhaliwal on Focus B.C. on September 27 to discuss racism with news director Jill Krop. You can read the transcript here.