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Op-Ed: Ryersonian story was wrong from the start

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Opinion by Al Donato

On March 13, The Ryersonian reported that two white first-year journalism students weren’t allowed to join a Racialized Students’ Collective (RSC) meeting on March 11. It’s caused massive shitstorms online and has proven that ultimately, the newspaper is run by people who can’t comprehend why students of colour might need a racialized-only safe space.

Notably absent from The Ryersonian story is that a majority of the RSC’s events are open to white people. The space for the March 11 event, however, was requested by racialized students, and reporting on the event by any person was not allowed.

“I think the RSC has been perpetuated as a collective that doesn’t do any work with allies, which is untrue,” said Vajdaan Tanveer, an RSC coordinator. “Most of our events are open, we provide educational materials online and we’re willing to have conversations with white students about what allyship looks like.

“You would not expect a reporter to go to an AA meeting or any support group and report on it. Even if you were racialized and trying to report on that meeting, we would have asked you not to.”

Chrys Saget-Richard was the RSC coordinator who told the two students to leave, but promised to speak on the record to them afterwards. They never contacted Saget-Richard.

“I just feel so defeated,” Saget-Richard said. “One more time, we have to explain ourselves. We need to justify our existence, our reason for centralizing our voices, our reason for taking space. It took two white students to take what we’re doing, manipulate it in a way and give it out to the world where it’s more legitimate than any of the work that we’ve done.”

The pervasive argument online — that the white students were being racialized — is flawed.

Racism isn’t discrimination based on race, it’s the power to benefit from prejudice. Can white people be discriminated against? Yes.

Unlike white people, racialized people have never had the power to oppress, wrongfully arrest, steal land from or murder white people while being supported by the government, the justice system and major institutions.

So when a white person enters a discussion about race with people of colour, their presence alone oppresses what can be said.

“That’s why we need to carve these spaces for racialized folks so they can speak their mind without fear of being judged,” RSC coordinator Ali Moeng said.

When the students chose to go to The Ryersonian, rather than enter into a dialogue with the RSC on their safe space policies or decide to call ahead for more information on the meeting, their intentions were clear: they didn’t care about learning and sharing experiences of racialization.

They came to pilfer a story out of the support group. And when they didn’t get one, they decided to become one.

In journalism, everything is deliberate – from whose quotes are most important and therefore come first, to what’s intentionally left out. The Ryersonian story leads with and is completely dominated by the white students’ perspectives, engulfing most of the word count. It was only towards the end (and as a result, the least important voice) that the RSC was briefly quoted.

Saget-Richard, who goes by they pronouns, was referred to throughout the Ryersonian story as a woman. All coverage thus far has failed to mention this erroneous misgendering.

This isn’t the first time the Ryersonian has misgendered a trans individual — not even the first time this year. In February, the newspaper wrote an opinion piece on Bruce Jenner, confusing gender and sexuality as one and the same.

Throughout all of this, it’s clear that the Ryerson’s journalism curriculum fails to adequately inform students of the power imbalances between journalists and marginalized groups.The Ryersonian reporter’s byline has since been removed. The white journalism students had the accompanying photo of them replaced.

The RSC doesn’t have that luxury. They’ve been harassed, have received online threats (including an ominous “You’re on our list” email) and are in fear of being attacked walking around on campus. Still, they’re doing their part in reaching out to white allies. “Reverse Racism: Let’s Talk About It”, takes place on March 31, and will be a workshop dedicated to explaining racialized-only safe spaces. It’s yet another way the collective will have to prove their work deserves to exist.

Almost every public space and media outlet is centralized to the white experience. This is no more epitomized than in Ryerson’s journalism program, where most of the faculty is white.

Both students have spoken to various media outlets, saying they understand racialized students’ need for safe space.

But at the end of the day, The Ryersonian, run by the school of journalism, thought this was the story that mattered: the woes of white journalism students trumped the marginalization of racialized students.

That’s the real story.

Al Donato is a third-year journalism student and person of colour who works right beside the Racialized Students’ Collective in one of six equity centres run by the Ryerson Students’ Union. Donato is also a former Eyeopener editor.

Comments

  1. “Unlike white people, racialized people have never had the power to oppress, wrongfully arrest, steal land from or murder white people while being supported by the government, the justice system and major institutions.”

    You’re right. When the Moors ruled Europe and killed Romans in the hundreds of thousands or when the Persians ruled from the East and massacred millions of people, that didn’t count. When the Ottoman empire systematically targeted Christians in the early 1900s and systematically cleansed them from places like Turkey and Azerbaijan, that didn’t count.

    The only time racism ever existed in human history was when the American south bought slaves. There was no such thing as racism before that. Nope. None at all.

    “So when a white person enters a discussion about race with people of colour, their presence alone oppresses what can be said.”

    You’re right. I mean, all those slave-owning white Ryerson students drip with privilege. What, with the whites-only line at Tim Horton’s and the special discounts for the TTC and all, white presence alone is oppressive.

    “Almost every public space and media outlet is centralized to the white experience. This is no more epitomized than in Ryerson’s journalism program, where most of the faculty is white.”

    What’s wrong with the whites-only Ramen joints around Ryerson, exactly? And why can’t white people enjoy a movie at their whites-only movie theatre at Yonge and Dundas?

    “But at the end of the day, The Ryersonian, run by the school of journalism, thought this was the story that mattered: the woes of white journalism students trumped the marginalization of racialized students.

    That’s the real story.”

    The real story here is someone literally let you post this rubbish, too.

  2. If the story was wrong, then I as a white male , a group who is is targeted for being everything seemingly evil , ant a safe space , free from all others who are non white . Thats the logic that this story is working with. If you want equality, that BE FREAKIN EQUAL , otherwise, dont waste space by proclaiming to be equal to all, while knowingly and willingly excluding one segment of the population, under the false premiss of ” safe space “. If I as a white male would suggest that I want my meeting to me for white students only , I strongly suspect that all the other students would have my ass for being a racist. Or, is the RSU allowed under some new charter to be racist ?

  3. If you are white you dont know what its like to have the police, the justice system and major institutions not on ur side when it matters. If you were in trial, if you were being pulled over, etc… ‘Racial minorities’ face limitations white people dont face.

    In the context of systemic racism, it makes sense for the vicims of this to feel more comfortable with other fellow victims exclusively when they are sharing their experiences.

    Creating a safe and comfortable space for victims of systemic racism is necessary for helping dissolve it.

    1. Complete rubbish! You may see me as white, but I know what it’s like not to have the police and the justice system not on my side. So don’t think for a minute that racialized people have the monopoly on marginalization.

  4. ‘ … If you are white you dont know what its like to have the police, the justice system and major institutions not on ur side when it matters. If you were in trial, if you were being pulled over, etc… ‘Racial minorities’ face limitations white people dont face. … ” This is utterly false . The cops DO NOT target one race over another when investigating crimes. The idea that there are more non whites in jail and white is NOT a product of racisisn rather, its a product of who is committing the crimes . I am white person, and I have been approached on routine matters just as anyone else. I have been stopped in my car just like anyone else.

    Are you then saying that white males are not targeted ? Lets see how many holes I can poke in your suggestion. The student union openly discriminates against Jewish persons, most of whom are white. The RSU and thier so called executive have openly advocated for racial segregation, an din a recent protest event they organized, they wanted white people to go to the back, sit down and shut up unless a non white person was being spoken to by cops. I recall in history a young black woman, Rosa Parks once being told to go to the back. How is her experience an act of racism , yet asking white people to go to the back an act of so called, safe space?

  5. I posted this before, but it must have gotten stuck in a spam filter.

    1. I believe your definition of racism to be wrong. Systematic oppression and institutional racism describes the specific condition of racism you are talking about. Regular racism doesn’t require a race to have a historical background not does it require it to be widespread. It just needs someone to discriminate of racism to be wrong.

    2. Even given your definition of racism, white people can definitely be oppressed. Your argument is a very American-history centric argument. There are many examples of people who are white being oppressed. Examples including the Irish, the Jewish population, Australian populations, etc. So, yeah, barring white people from a student group for racialized students is dumb if they were in fact barred because of their race.

    3.Even given that you dismiss my above arguments. You definitely agree that white people can be discriminated against. If RSU did in fact bar students because they were white it was definitely discrimination. Discrimination isn’t any better. In fact, it is very deplorable and shouldn’t happen in a university event either. I think it’s disappointing that the argument seems to be “it’s not racism, it’s just discrimination. That’s okay”. Ridiculous. Discrimination should be just as opposed as racism.

    4.Notice that I haven’t claimed that RSU did in fact bar the students because of their race. I don’t know that for a fact and it seems that the media about it is vague at best. However, the RSU’s response to this was telling. The RSU Facebook event has this line in the description: “Let’s talk about reverse racism. Is there even such a thing? This workshop aims to address the myths behind reverse racism in a constructive manner, to address concerns and to better the knowledge of allies and people of colour. ” To me, both of the lines, seem to imply that the entire discussion will focus on why racism against white people can’t exist. That is once again a bad thing.

    5. I’ve also commented on something similar on the Ryersonian article but here goes: just because I am a POC doesn’t make me any more understanding of the plight that racialized people face. I’ve lived in the upper middle class for most of my life and don’t experience the kind of racism some white person living on the Israeli-Palestine border. The colour of my skin should not determine if I’ve been oppressed. In fact, assuming that I have because of the colour of my skin is disgusting.

    That is all I have to say. I do appreciate Al’s article because I believe it to be an article with Al’s genuine opinions rather than hysteria based articles that the Ryersonian wrote. That being said, I do not agree with Al’s opinions and conclusions about “reverse racism”.

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