WGN TV reporter Courtney Gousman is “sick to her stomach” after seeing racially-insensitive imagery in traffic recently. On her Facebook page, she posted a picture of a “noose” sticker attached to a gas tank. She explains in her caption that the noose represents the murders of innocent black Americans from slavery to recent times. Yet, this post only represents the tip of the iceberg. Every day, TV reporters of color have to deal with racist banter from critics and even a few colleagues. How do I know? Because I’ve experienced it before.
Balancing My Blackness
Ten years ago, I began pursuing a career as an independent journalist; it was my dream to become “the next Lester Holt”. To achieve this goal, I started networking with media professionals on social media and at local events. Most reporters were friendly and helpful, but others were discouraging. The most demoralizing words came from a white, transgendered camera person: “Zack, you are too black and too Christian to ever work for this TV station.” (The person was right, but I’ll never trade in my platform for false acceptance.)
As I aspired to be a black TV reporter from 2009 to 2012, I conducted a ton of primary research. I e-mailed dozens of news directors across the country and asked for tips how to improve my resume tape. Many agreed that my voice was too ethnic and I needed to improve my diction. But my friends and family disagreed. They hated when I used my “proper” voice. To them, it was annoying. At that moment, I realized that I needed to break free of TV news expectations for black reporters. Thus, I started my own media enterprise. The business flopped but I was still proud of myself. I was a black journalist and entrepreneur with no strings attached.
Courtney Gousman is not the only black journo who deals with race on the job. Many black journos in Chicago do their best to navigate issues of race in this competitive market. They deal with having their story ideas turned down in exchange for more sensational (and stereotypical) segments/articles. I’ve visited WGN before and I saw firsthand some of the racial tension among reporters/producers. When I toured other Chicago TV stations, I’ve experienced disrespect from white journalists who pretend to be race-neutral during their news reports. Overall, I’ve learned that race is going to always be the elephant in the room.
We can’t blame everything on the man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; racism didn’t just pop up on January 20, 2017. Our country has always had a race problem. However, the same reporters to inform of this problem have a few problems of their own. It’s hard to tell stories about prejudice when you feel like a victim yourself. This is why we must use the news as a way to create change. Starting a dialogue is not enough. We must move from words to action. If Gousman’s picture above is worth thousand words, I can only imagine what we can accomplish when we use that image to spring forth into action.