The reason we move to the cities

I really, really did not want to write something about the aftermath about the election. But in all this hand-wringing about what the media did wrong, I find it pretty annoying that journalism organizations and journalists themselves are being blamed for not living outside of major cities.

What this argument forgets, is that for every journalist or media person who is a Black person, Muslim, Latino, Asian, LGBT, disabled and in many of these cases, a woman, being outside of major cities is a terrible experience. It sucks. It’s why we often leave.

Think about it. In states and cities where not being white and straight is unusual, you never get to escape that feeling if you are a Black person, Muslim, Latino, Asian and LBGT. And it’s even worse if you’re a woman and/or poor.

But if you work hard and are ambitious, sometimes you move to a place (maybe for school or a job) where there is more diversity, in ethnicities, backgrounds, class and thinking. There you are just a person among a group. You stick out less. You can breathe a little. Invisibility is a good thing.

And if you go into journalism in school, there will be white, mostly straight and male, professors who will tell you to go back to small towns, where there are still jobs and lots of stories that need to be told. But these are also the places that made you feel less than. The places that treated you worse than your white neighbours, sometimes for reasons you couldn’t specify until years later. And working in journalism is already hard enough.

We already know diversity at many major news organizations in major cities and on the coasts is already bad, even in 2016. But in smaller cities and rural areas? It can be close to or absolutely non-existent. In many cases, it’s not a priority or seen as an asset at all.

Earlier this week, I wrote on Twitter about how journalists who are Black people, Muslim, Latino, Asian, LGBT, disabled and a woman have this whole extra pile of stuff to deal with compared to their white, male, straight counterparts in the newsroom covering this election. Their lives will be the ones most directly affected by the policies put in place by Donald Trump. Many of those female journalists are definitely wondering about whether they will have access to abortion in 2017. Or if they’re LGBT, can they still get married next year to their partner or adopt a child? Beejoli Shah, a journalist who lives in Texas, woke up to a swastika spray-painted on her house. It was her second hate crime in a week after someone egged her car with the word “Trump”. This stuff comes to your door.

White, straight men, especially those in journalism, do not have to think about these things unless they are reporting on them or directly told about them by their colleagues. And frankly, they don’t need to care. Everyone else doesn’t have a choice. And if you think I’m making this up, you should read how Michelle Ye Hee Lee, an Asian-American fact-checker at The Washington Post, was treated by readers and trolls.

But, going back to the issue of cities. Big cities are places where Black people, Muslims Latinos, Asians, LGBT and women of colour can finally feel invisible. Be with other people who get the experience of feeling different, picked on, in many cases we bond over our similar moments of racism and microaggressions. Which were in most cases from white people. Big cities are often the places where we can celebrate who we are and finally feel less ashamed of it. We didn’t chose to be this. Big cities often give us fleeting moments where we can take a break from being punished for our very identities.

Except we now know even in big cities white people now feel empowered to treat these groups like they don’t belong either. A great example of someone deep into the American dream of success is a man like Michael Luo, a Christian Asian-American man who grew up in the United States, graduated from Harvard, was the deputy metro editor of the New York Times and is about to start a job at the New Yorker. His family  still was told to go back to China a few weeks ago.

It’s now Day 6 in Donald Trump’s America and there are more stories of explicit and targeted racism, sexism and harassment coming out from big cities like LA and SF.

So if you want better coverage of the white, working class in places like the Rust Belt, do not put the onus and primary responsibility on journalists who are Black people, Muslim, Latino, Asian, LGBT and women to do it. They have enough on their plate.


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