Why ask if Toronto is ready for black police chief?

by | Mar 13, 2015 | Opinion

Vanessa Campbell

Online Editor


“Is the Toronto Police Service open to a black chief?”

When I read this Toronto Star headline on March 8 I thought it was pure click bait.

To my surprise, it wasn’t. And it got better. The first line read, “Can merit have a black face?”

When this piece was posted online, comments and tweets were enraged at the mere thought of bringing race into a job position.

“What does skin colour have to do with how qualified someone is for a job?” was just one of the comments.  What does skin colour have to do with any person’s prospects? Which then begs the question: who’s really making it a race thing?

My answer: the news media.

Why? Because while race might have been the root of a lot of arrests, especially in the US, news outlets have the platform to shed light on it and to create awareness surrounding these serious problems. Instead we keep passing it around.

Everyone listens when race is brought up because no one wants to be labeled as racist. Once you’re labeled as racist, it’s hard to come back from it, if you do at all. And the convenient thing about it is that if worded correctly, it can fit anywhere. You can apply it and suggest it in any news story.

Is the world really racist or has the news shaped us that way? I’m not saying the news is bad but I think, especially as an aspiring journalist myself, we need to choose how we use the “R” word.

Not everything is about race and we shouldn’t introduce it into the conversation until it makes sense to. That also doesn’t mean we can’t ignore the signs of racism, if and when it is actually present. It just means that as a source of education to the public, we have a platform to help fix it, but it seems like a lot of publications have their own agendas. And usually it all boils down to money made by bringing more readers in. But when was money placed over a news organization’s main job: to inform, to provide the public with credible news?

Race gets everyone hot and emotional. Race gets views and traffic and ratings. Race is good for business. And while racism is real and alive and well in the world, it’s hard to tell now which is more important, the news or keeping newspapers afloat. Are news organizations bringing race up for the right reasons or for profit? And can we do both?

You’re not born with hatred or racism. It’s taught. And knowing that, I think we should be careful about how we word headlines, regardless of whether it gets viewers reactions.

No one would blink twice if the Toronto Police possibly getting a black chief was introduced as, “Toronto Police welcomes new chief.” The story could then be about his plans on making the department better. Making this about race now steers readers away from whether or not he’s qualified. In some cases it could land him the job but in others it could discourage it.

News publications influence a lot of people’s views and opinions. With suggestive headlines, we’re planting seeds where critical thinking should be free to grow instead. We’re creating unnecessary bias.

When you exemplify certain aspects of a narrative, you can get better reception, but often we use that for our own twisted agendas rather than for doing good and getting to the root of problems.

Around the world, Canada has a reputation for being polite and apologetic and while manners are not a bad thing to have, I feel as though we set no trends when it comes to real change or problem solving. As a nation we’re pretty passive when it comes to challenging issues.

As neighbour to the U.S., we’re often looked to for reactions by the rest of the world. When something catastrophic happens in the United States, Canada gets a subtle side-eye as if to ask, “you too?” or “what next?”

Cracking down and addressing racism is possible. Flying over to Africa to help “end” poverty or to Iraq to “help out” is hardly any of our business. How can we take on these big issues when we can’t even get past skin colour as a defining characteristic for a new Toronto police chief in our “free” country?

Canada doesn’t deal with dirty laundry in the news. And we need to. We need to get over being the polite stepsister to the United States and start a long overdue conversation. Especially in Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world.

Why do we need to ask this question: Is the Toronto Police Service open to a black chief?

The question here is: are news publications more interested in click baits and page views or informing people of something as simple as their candidates for police chief?