When the BuzzFeed Canada writer Scaachi Koul tweeted that the news outlet was looking for articles, preferably from non-whites and non-males, she got harassed by angry white men who even resorted to violent threats.
On Feb. 18 Scaachi tweeted that BuzzFeed Canada was looking for long-form, Canada-centric pitches, and that BuzzFeed “would particularly like to hear from you if you are not white and not male.”
After a surge of accusations of discrimination against white males, she tweeted: “Giving ignored voices preferential treatment is not racism against white people… it is an attempt to fix all of history.” She also noted that while she would read pitches from white men, pitches from “women, minorities, non-binary, queer, trans*, aboriginal people” were her “first priority.”
However, the trolls continued to tweet abuse at her. Some tried the slimy “nice guy” approach: “White men are generally nice so they’re seen as easy targets for the predators. Her whole world was built by white men.”
Others took the “not all men” road: “1 white man is misogynistic and privileged = all white men are bad.” And some women joined in, tweeting ignorant statements such as: “Go back to India!”
Scaachi had some comebacks ready for her attackers — she wrote: “IF YOU’RE A WHITE MAN UPSET THAT WE ARE LOOKING MOSTLY FOR NON-WHITE NON-MEN I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU” She added some salt to the insult by saying “GO WRITE FOR MACLEANS.”
Macleans‘ columnist Scott Gillmore then dove into the fight on Twitter, claiming that Scaachi was violating human rights and labor laws by discriminating against white men. Her employer Craig Silverman defended Scaachi’s right to voice her opinion on Twitter though, adding that her posts were clearly not official job ads:
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) February 20, 2016
The situation escalated to violent threats. On Feb. 19, Scaachi tweeted: “Starting to get threats from white internet men saying that my (white, male) boss should rape and/or murder me as professional discipline.”
She has since deactivated her Twitter account.
It seems absurd to even have to argue for the need for diversity in media in 2016, but Scaachi’s experiences with internet harassment unfortunately prove that it’s clearly still a fight we need to have. As a white writer myself, I completely stand by Scaachi, and so should any reasonable person. The comments made by her Twitter trolls reveal the sense of entitlement these white men all seem to share. Her critics are fighting to occupy a position of privilege and failing to grasp that not every opportunity out there exists solely for them.
Several people have come to Scaachi’s defense on Twitter:
— Ryerson Review (@RyersonReview) February 21, 2016
It seems the worst thing you can say to white men is "this is not for you." The mentions for Scaachi right now. Hell.
— Aaron Boothby (@ellipticalnight) February 19, 2016
So @Scaachi put out a call for BuzzFeed Canada story pitches, encouraging women and people of colour, and has now been harassed off Twitter.
— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) February 21, 2016
Scaachi’s callout for diverse voices is refreshing, given that Canada’s columnists are predominantly old, white men. A 2014 survey of Canadian columnists by journalism project J Source proves that men have more than their fair share of opportunities to have their voices heard. J Source found that of the National columnists surveyed, only 27 percent were female.
What’s more, the majority of the columnists they surveyed were also over 50, with the median age being 58.5. “It makes me sad when only a quarter of columnists are female, given that more than half of Canadians are women,” says Romayne Smith Fullerton, the ethics editor of J-Source (in J Source’s post about the study).
Ottawa Citizen’s former editorial pages editor Kate Heartfield recently spoke to the Ryerson Review of Journalism about the lack of racial diversity at the Citizen. Of the paper’s 11 columnists, only one wasn’t white: “If you’re only publishing a certain selection of people, you’re not getting all the perspectives on any issue,” she explained. “Canada is not that homogenous.”
This trend isn’t limited to print journalism. At CBC/Radio-Canada, only 8.2 percent of their workforce consists of of visible minorities, while 1.6 percent of employees are Aboriginal and persons with disabilities make up only 1.8 percent of the workforce (according to their 2013-2014 Annual Report).
And take a look at Rogers Media, which owns Canada’s largest publishing company, Rogers Publishing Ltd, and Postmedia, the company that owns the National Post and some of Canada’s leading broadsheet dailies: Both of these huge Canadian media companies’ boards of directors are made up of mostly white men.
Scaachi Koul brings a needed, and underrepresented, perspective to the Canadian media landscape with her own writing, whether she’s giving Canadians a playful primer on Diwali or sharing her experiences on a CBC panel about affirmative action, where commenters tried to guess her race. We should be applauding her for her Twitter callout encouraging non-whites and non-males to share their perspectives — not harassing her so much that she shuts down her account.