Desmond Cole’s activism and a double standard
By PAT WATSON
The dynamic individual actions of activist and freelance journalist Desmond Cole in standing up as a voice for equity for Black people and his decision to stop writing a bi-monthly column in the Toronto Star are part of the same struggle. In keeping with his activism, it was very much about anti-Black racism. Cole made a principled decision.
He had been advised by the Star that his activism and his journalism were clashing. To reference a written response by feminist activist Michelle Landsberg that appeared in Now Weekly, the Star “blundered”.
It really comes down to this: At a time when privileged White males in the Canadian writers milieu were having fun being glib on Twitter about funding an award for one of their own – ‘the appropriation prize’ – there is stubborn blindness to the equal value of the existence of others. And, whenever a member of one of those otherized (yes it’s a word) groups claims his equal place in the world, there is push back.
We are in the process of waking up somnambulant White-identified masses – and in particular the male power elite – to the fact that they are only human and so is everyone else. They are being challenged to come to the reality that it is not their place to tell any other racially or culturally identified segment of the population how to be. It must feel very peculiar to them.
The prospect of losing the status they have sustained over centuries must be unsettling. Otherwise, why would Star higher-ups want to try to get Cole to white-wash his columns, which by the way had been cut from weekly to twice a month?
With printed news struggling for market share, Cole’s columns were bringing readers to the Star. Clicks online to link to his column meant money to the Star’s bottom line. Yet, even that couldn’t make them see beyond the platform of race hierarchy.
The Star’s explanation, that the journalist should not become the story, has been shown to be empty. Much could be said about the double standard that was in effect in this matter. Landsberg and others writing in support of Cole’s decision have laid out the evidence of vocal activists who were also columnists writing for the Star and heavily supported in their activism. Landsberg goes so far as to note that her editors “in fact, encouraged my activism.”
It’s clear then what it means that Cole was essentially told he could not do what others before him had done while continuing to have their bylines in the Star.
Cole was quickly invited by other media houses including the CBC to have his byline appear there.
If nothing else, this episode with The Star serves to show how even those that consider themselves as champions for equality and fairness across racial lines still feel they own the prerogative to decide how much equality and fairness other identified groups can or should have. After all, this same legacy newspaper did the extensive investigative report on police carding of Black men that helped raise the flag in the mainstream.
Of course, every newspaper editor reserves the decision whether to print a column, but when the Star brought Cole on board, he was already a high-energy activist on behalf of Black people. Therefore, to then imply he should have to make a choice in the matter is foolishness.
Cole’s readers will follow him wherever his goes, so when he left The Star, his readership left with him. Will this then be a learning experience for the Star?
Anyway, their move, their loss.
A note on ransomware…
The cyber attack, WannaCry ransomeware that locked users out of the files on their computer and created chaos in the healthcare system in the United Kingdom is a reminder to regularly save files in a backup offline. Most of us have no clue how to pay a ransom with bitcoins, the common form of ransom payment. Better safe than sorry.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter @patprose.