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  • Janae McKenzie

Being Black before being a journalist

In one of our recent lectures, we discussed what could be considered an ethical dilemma for our editorial board. 15 faculty members from the Missouri School of Journalism recently signed a letter condemning MU Chancellor and UM System President Mun Choi’s lack of transparency and recent actions that discourage dissent in the university community.


What this conversation evolved into became a conversation of when journalists and editors are able to express an opinion, if ever. Political opinions came to the table as well, and inevitably, supporting Black Lives Matter. It’s not the first time the editorial board has alluded to this topic.


There are several journalists (read: white journalists) I know who view supporting Black Lives Matter publicly, as a news practitioner, to be the wrong move. This is because they view it as too political of a stance, and worry about how it could damage their reputation/ability to do their jobs. I understand those concerns, believe me, I do. And I know those people have good hearts, so I try not to fault them for this stance.


I do find myself in this weird position though, where I am not afforded the same luxury as my non-Black colleagues. They have the privilege of putting their identity as a journalist before their identity as a white person. I’ve never been offered that luxury. I have been, and will always be, a black woman before I am a journalist. That’s how I see myself, and that’s how the world sees me. So I take extra offense when people consider the stance that my life matters as “too political” to back publicly.


Very time I think I can put this thought away, something else happens. This week, that was the Breonna Taylor verdict. I know that people don’t see themselves reflected in her face the way I do. But I worry that disparity keeps us from making the progress we need.


I certainly have other thoughts to share about my experience as a black journalist -- but those are words for another time.


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