“WE’RE ALL ON A JOURNEY OF LEARNING”: REFLECTIONS ON WE ARE BLACK JOURNOS’ EVENT ON THE POWER OF ALLYSHIP​

"We're all on a journey of learning": Reflections on We Are Black Journos' event on the power of allyship

The PressPad team attended the We Are Black Journos first-ever virtual event on Thursday 25 June. Hosted by the group’s founder Hannah Ajala it was filled with inspiring panelists like Kesewa Hennessy, Maurice Mcleod and Charlie Phillips. The event looked at allyship and how to form allyships formally and informally. We collated what we learnt from the event.

Ayomikun Adekaiyero – Social Media Editor

 
As a black journalist, I am very happy something like We are Black Journos exists. Thursday’s event was the first event of theirs I attended, having only heard of them recently. I think what stood out for me the most was seeing what people have learnt about race after the recent global discussion. We are Black Journos founder, Hannah Ajala, put the question to the audience after her introduction and it got a range of responses and here are some of my favourite ones:
  • ‘That to listen properly is to listen without your ego.’
  • ‘That the press still engages in highly racialised language when talking about black people protesting.’
  • ‘People still feel threatened by the notion of equality and educated black people.’
  • ‘Learning and education on race is a continuous process.’
  • ‘Fear of getting it wrong is the enemy of action.’
  • ‘I thought of myself as anti-racist but I realised that it is something I have to keep choosing over and over again. It’s not a permanent label.’

I think this was incredibly important because as much as we should be active, we should also be reflective of our own changes of views. No person is perfect when it comes to this and we are all on a journey of learning. I personally did not say anything in the moment because I was trying to take everything in but I thought I’d share it here.

I’ve become so used to looking for racism on the largescale, lack of representation, police brutality etc that I tend to not notice, actively ignore or make excuses for the micro-aggressions and racism I receive in my own everyday life. The last few weeks has made me reflect a lot on that and I want to try, when it doesn’t emotionally hurt or tire me out, to not let these things pass without a response.

 
The rest of the event was just as reflective as we heard from panellist Maurice Mcleod and Kesewa Hennessy giving a glimpse of life as a black journalist and we also heard from a couple of other journalists about opportunities they have in their own news organisations. All in all, the event was amazing and I am looking forward to attending again.
 

Laura Garcia – PressPad co-founder

 

The events of the last couple of weeks, like for many others, have been a reckoning of the part we all play in propping up institutional racism. The panellists talked about how this felt like a turning point: the energy calling for change similar to when Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993. But after 17 years, not that much has changed. Especially in newsrooms and journalism courses. One of the speakers, Maurice Mcleod, spoke about his experience in newsrooms where his colleagues would try and share in the banter but would end up infantilizing him and his black colleagues. So how can we take this energy and turn it into something that lasts beyond some headlines and black squares on Instagram?

I am from Mexico, my skin is brown and sometimes I take comfort that my non-whiteness and the work I do for PressPad is enough. But during this session, I started to think about the courses I’ve taught and how there were never more than 1 or 2 black students in my classroom. What could I have done to support them more or better or differently? How can I use my brownness, my lived experience and my voice to be an active ally?
 
We Are Black Journos first virtual meet up showed me that there are many more ways we can all show allyship in small but significant ways. It starts by listening and challenging what I assume people need or want. So I’m actively listening. The same way structural discrimination is built by tons of micro-aggressions, we can tear it down with even more micro-events of allyship. And we won’t stop. 
 

Nicola Slawson – Head of Comms

 
Like many white people I have questioned how much I’ve done to be an ally since the awful death of George Floyd. I have long considered myself to be anti-racist but I’ve realised it’s not enough to just say I am, I have to keep choosing to be over and over. As Ibram X. Kendi said in his book How to Be an Antiracist, being either racist or anti-racist is not a permanent label or a tattoo. 
 

During Thursday’s We Are Black Journos event on the power of allyship, I thought more about what I, as a white journalist, have done or not done to support my black peers in the industry. As one of the panellists, Kesewa Hennessy of the Financial Times, said: “Being a real ally is giving up or sharing part of your power or using your privilege to create a more equal media landscape. It’s about taking on professional risk to make change happen.”

The other panellist Maurice McLeod talked about different kinds of allies. He recalls being in the newsroom and knowing there were supportive journalists or editors who would be willing to listen to his ideas or help him get ahead but wouldn’t feel comfortable if he directly raised the issue of racism. Whereas there were other white journalists who he knew he could go to and be really open about it. I hope to always be in the latter camp.

Another part of the event has stuck in my mind. Two young journalists spoke up about their current struggles to break in. One of them described what it was like to be on work experience (already a nerve-wracking time) and be the only black person in the entire newsroom. The fact is I have no idea what that would feel like and I can’t ever know. 

What I can do is keep listening and keep educating myself and keep taking action because it’s action that will really change things, both in journalism and in society as a whole. 

 

Amber Sunner – Newsletter Writer and Blogs Editor

 
The We Are Black Journos’ first virtual event was an insightful look at how allyship is needed to help elevate black voices. The event taught me that I needed to be more proactive in creating and sustaining an allyship with my black peers, especially in journalism. Being brown I do have a level of privilege and I need to utilise this privilege in any way I can to help fuel the change needed to even begin dismantling institutional racism. Listening and acting on what you are being told rather than questioning it is a good place to start.
 
A majority of newsrooms do not represent the population, but this needs to change. As Kesewa Hennessy said: “There are so few senior black journalists who have the authority to bring about change themselves.” Black journalists need allies and change needs to happen in journalism and beyond. 
 

Olivia Crellin – PressPad founder

This week’s We Are Black Journos event on allyship led by Hannah Ajala was a fantastic event. I’ve been attending quite a few such zooms over the last few weeks since George Floyd’s murder reignited the Black Lives Matter movement. What feels important and different about WABJ is the fact that it’s been going for some time and is not a reaction to a crisis or tipping point, although arguably we have been at a tipping point with racism for some time. While many of the other events and conversations I’ve been witness to have been necessary, and the anger, frustration and sense of injustice is so important to bring about change, this was a valuable contrast.

WABJ’s event and its keynote speakers brought a calm and steady optimism, and the combination of intense listening by all those at the event with the feverish offers to help, empathise, connect and uplift in the chatbox from journalists of all colours, for me, epitomised what allyship is all about: listening and then pulling up.

I’m excited to see WABJ grow and hope that at some point it might become akin to the National Association of Black Journalists in the US, which exists, just like groups here in the UK such as Women in Journalism, to protect, support and serve a specific demographic. Kudos to Hannah, the speakers who shared with grace and humour their experience and all the other allies actively participating to do what PressPad feels so strongly about, rewiring networks to create a fairer and more representative media

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