The Erosion of Racial Integrity

“I was being humiliated; my position had essentially been made redundant as all of the decision making had been taken off me in a way that implied my total incompetence. I was repeatedly berated in front of the staff, but it was when I had my team members reduced to tears for being yelled at in the office, that I had decided to leave. When I learned that I no longer had any power to protect my team from harassment, I could no longer justify staying in that role. Furthermore, I had strong objections to the content being produced, the racial nature of incitement of an already volatile audience, led to a visceral reaction that I could no longer tolerate. As the only person of colour on the media team, to be told almost daily that our audience is racist, became too much to bear”

This was the response I was going to give in my exit interview when asked why I chose to leave. This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of my experience at this organisation. I won’t name them, and I have deleted the experience from my Linkedin profile; in fact, I have erased those eight weeks from my life completely. I have accepted the learnings and will certainly do much more research before taking on a role in the future.

Enough time has passed for me to be able to reflect on what has transpired and how it has changed me. How it has taken the experience of a culture that is rotten to its core to allow me to truly appreciate what my values are. To have made a decision that prioritises my mental health and racial integrity, only to be met with concern, trepidation and fear.

Why diversity matters

To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person of colour to have ever worked on the media team for this organisation. During my first week, a story came across my desk about the Federal Police reporting an increase in terrorism activity online. The details in the report indicated that the increased activity came from factions of far-right extremist groups, yet the image used to accompany the alarmist headline was one that played directly to the indoctrinated masses that had consumed whitewashed media for decades; i.e: a bearded brown man with a turban.

I rejected the story immediately. What astounded me was that no one could understand why. Even after I had explained that the story exacerbates an already wounded culture that is stigmatised by exactly that kind of media reporting, there were still some confused faces.

The story was pulled in the end, but I was astonished by the total lack of comprehension. Perhaps they may not have deemed it offensive because they were so used to reporting on such issues, maybe they didn’t understand the impact they had on such a large audience? I later found that reporting on such things suited ‘our brand’.

Once the dust settled and the ink on my employment contract dried, I was told almost daily that our audience is racist and that we should write accordingly to appease them. There were unspoken parameters within which I had to work. Anytime my objective journalism would creep beyond those parameters I was swiftly put in my place and told by the CEO, we’re not socialists.

There was no reprieve from this narrative being pounded into me and it began to erode my racial integrity. It was at that point that I removed my title from my Linkedin profile. I was careful not to send too many work emails as I didn’t want to be associated with the platform. After three weeks, I began looking for another job.

Although I didn’t stick around long enough to make any difference to this workplace, hiring a team rich in cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, abilities, genders and sexual orientations, gives an organisation a better understanding of the real world. Such an understanding leads to a sensitivity of what is and isn’t acceptable to report on. What could be deemed offensive and what is downright wrong? It’s irrelevant that this diversity is made up of minority groups, no matter how minor these groups are, they’re still people that deserve respect.

I’ve written many times of my own personal struggles of dealing with race, it’s an altogether different battleground when it comes to my professional struggles. It’s confronting working in an industry that has contributed so much to the pain of my culture. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to make a difference.

I couldn’t achieve that in this workplace, but the fight continues.

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Generation gaps

Born at the end of 1980, I am one of the youngest cohorts of Generation X. Raised by Baby Boomers, our generation was taught to be hard workers, has a strong work ethic instilled in us, and we are very proud of the work we do, regardless of our chosen professions.

We were also raised by a generation that doesn’t believe in mental health. If you’re sad, you pray, you go for a run or you simply get on with it. Ours is a generation that teeters between stoicism and an overwhelming display of constant emotion. It’s a difficult place to navigate.

I’m also one of the youngest in my circles of friends. It’s not surprising that when I told friends that I had resigned from a terrible job that had left me depleted, left me doubting my ability to do anything at all, that had a toxic culture with undertones of racism, I was met with faces of shock, concern and confusion.

Do you have another job to go to?

What about your kids?

What are you going to do?

How could you just leave?

I don’t blame my friends for their reactions. I would probably react in the same manner if the situation were reversed. At least, initially.

What was interesting was when I had reached out to my younger friends. Their instant reaction was celebratory.

Good for you!

Well done for standing up to them.

Their loss… can’t wait to hear what you do next.

Blind optimism or a generation that is not held down by cynicism? Whatever it may be, the vastly differing reactions were stark.

I have never left a job before finding another one. Furthermore, I had taken on this role after a seven-month stint of unemployment having been made redundant from my previous role, not unusual in media. I had never been unemployed for that long either. So many firsts this year. Still, my resignation was better than the alternative.

Another characteristic passed on to our generation from the boomers was resilience.

I always pride myself on being quite resilient, but at what point does resilience give way to tolerance? Does tolerance then lead to complicity? By ignoring or not allowing certain abusive or discriminatory behaviours to impact you, do you then become complicit in accepting that behaviour? The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

When younger people speak up against something they don’t agree with, they are immediately branded snowflakes. By showing what we perceive to be a sign of strength, by moving on and getting on with it, do we accept those toxic environments in a workplace to be acceptable?

There are only so many things that are in our control or influence. As a manager, I tried to influence at a micro level, the culture of my team; I failed. I tried to influence the outcome of the content we produced; I failed. I then went into preservation mode and simply tried not to let my manager have such an emotional hold on me… well, I think I may have succeeded in that.

Ultimately, all I could control was whether or not I chose to stay in that workplace. By making that choice to leave, I regained my power. Shortly after I left, removing myself from an environment where I was told repeatedly in front of an audience how poorly I was doing and how little I was achieving, I slowly began to reclaim my confidence.

My resignation was a huge display of strength. It was an incredibly difficult decision that impacts my career, my family, my wellbeing, and my finances, but by making a choice to leave, I am making a stand to say that behaviour is not acceptable.

The day after I resigned, two other staff members handed in their resignation. I know their decisions were not at all impacted by me, but to have three members of a relatively small team leave in two days speaks volumes. Since I began writing this article, four more team members (that I know of) have left, leaving scathing reviews of their atrocious experiences on Glassdoor.


Congratulations, you’re successful!

It has been a tumultuous year, personally and professionally. I was made redundant in January and resigned from a job in October.

Two days after I resigned, I was informed that I had been chosen for the Walkey Foundation Mentorship Program. I had gone from doubting my ability to write at all, to being recognised by the most coveted organisation in Australian journalism. Obviously, it’s not an award, but a group of highly respected writers and journalists thought my work was deserving of being mentored to reach a higher level of my career.

Furthermore, within a week of my resignation, I was offered another role. It’s a smaller team, I am not in a managerial position, seven-hour workdays working for, quite possibly, the kindest people I have ever met. The organisation stands by their mission of work-life balance (yes, it’s achievable) by offering a hybrid model of working from home for three days and two days in the office.

Somewhere along the way of my career, I lost sight of my values. I got so caught up in the big paycheques and fancy titles, that I forgot why I had chosen this path in the first place.

I wrote my thesis many moons ago on the gang-rape trials that happened in Sydney in 2000. I wrote about the atrocity of the crimes committed and the appalling coverage in the media that led to an all-out assault on all people of middle eastern appearance.

I wanted my words to matter, I wanted for a different voice to be heard. Through the years, my voice has reached a wider audience. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career, writing to an audience of well over two million people. I know now that it’s not about who I am reaching, but the message I am conveying. I would much rather have a tiny audience and be true to my values than write absolute garbage that erodes everything I stand for to reach the masses.

This is my success.

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