‘We Are Completely Ignored’ – What It’s Like Being a Black Woman in Journalism

"I have been around white editors who don't like to call something racist and will say it's better to use the word ‘bias’."
illustrated by Joel Benjamin
Black woman journalist i
Illustration: Joel Benjamin

Being a Black journalist in a predominately white world isn’t easy. It often causes you to often question whether you’re in the right place at all. But representation in the newsroom can make the difference between fact and fake news – especially in a year dominated by stories about police brutality and the disproportionate coronavirus death rates of those from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.


As a Black woman journalist, I often felt I was the only one going through some of these experiences. Then I conducted over 30 anonymous interviews with Black women journalists, some of which have been extracted below.

Collecting their stories over the last few months has shown me that in fact I am not, nor have I ever been alone. I knew the stories of Black women would be powerful, but I never imagined hearing them would have such an impact on my own wellbeing. I share these stories not to keep bringing light to Black suffering – you will see there are testimonies of joy and pleasure woven throughout, and the absolute love that these women have for their craft. It is this love for journalism that drives us to making it a more inclusive place. 

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For many of the interviewees I spoke to, having a Black or brown editor at a mainstream media news outlet was a central piece of solving the problem of racism in the newsroom. Not everyone’s experiences were negative. Some Black journalists – however few and far between – said that they had great experiences in the newsroom and mainstream media. 

Others had more ambiguous or downright dispiriting experiences. Racism is not just someone using slurs – you just need to read the microaggressions that many list below for a clearer indicator of racism. 


Does this mean that the industry should be avoided at all costs by people of colour? I don't think so. Now, more than ever, we need Black women journalists to tell the stories that have often been ignored. With women-led outlets such as Black Ballad and Gal-Dem, plus with so many journalists pushing the boundaries and staking their claim, I’m proud to work in a community of Black women journalists. Our unity was on display after the BBC refused to apologise after a presenter said the N-word on the news – the collective work of Black journalists changed the narrative and forced the institution to do a sharp U-turn. 

Are things perfect? No, but do they have the potential to be better and they will – I am more hopeful now than I’ve ever been. 


“With covert racism, you never know what the motivation is. I remember the first editors meeting I went to in this big news organisation. I’d been warned that the editor liked to pick on new faces and ask who you are and what they were doing there. I prepared my elevator pitch – I was nervous but excited.

“I went in and there was one other white guy who was also an intern and new. I remember the editor at the end of the meeting asking who he was and he gave his spiel, then she just looked at me and just carried on. My suspicion is that she looked at me and thought I was a diversity intern. But still, I was a new face. I can never say for sure why she didn't ask me who I was. But I had a sense that because of the colour of my skin, it gave her no reason to ask.” — Vanessa, 29



“We worked on this project where we decided to calculate how many people at the top of institutions where non-white. When we came to sit round and discuss with the senior team how we would take this project further, we had someone deflect and say, ‘Oh I saw this great piece in the Evening Standard of a Black guy who used to be a drug dealer and now he’s turned his life around – maybe we can talk to him about diversity.’ 

“I was thought to myself, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? Why would we do that we have literally just interviewed the people who are at the top of these institutions and they are non-white? Now the only image you have in your head is a drug dealer turned charity worker.’

“I’m not downplaying that, but I can't see how you don't see how offensive that is. The thing is, you can't call that racist in a UK newsroom. I have been around white editors who don't like to call something racist and will say it's better to use the word ‘bias’, because the word racist will just put white people off. In the US, at least people are used to talking about racism – they know it's a systemic problem. Sometimes well-meaning institutions are part of racism.” — Monica, 33


“One of the editors in my team was really problematic when it came to race and gender. One day he came past the desk; there had been a terror attack and it was in the early hours, we were working without our main editor that day. [He] looked at the new deputy, then looked at me straight in my eyes and then back at the deputy, and said ‘oh wow, you’re on your own today.’ He just completely erased me from the picture. 

“I was devastated and shocked, because the deputy was brand new to the role and so I had been supporting him. I think I had even applied for his role a couple of times and I hadn't got it. [It was] that classic thing of being passed up for promotion, but still having to tell the white guy how to do the job and then being ignored.


“The same editor who ignored me [once] walked past and said, ‘oh I saw your mum in the office today.’ I realised that it was to take your mother to work day and that his former PA had brought her mum into work. Now, his PA had worked for this editor for years, and he could not tell the difference between a Black woman who had worked for him for 10 years and me. Again, I was devastated. His former PA was devastated. It made me realise that the work we do is not worthy of promotion and that we are completely ignored.” — Louise, 30


“I think we need more Black and brown editors. We have a problem in my organisation with hiring Black or brown journalists. People in my organisation will say, ‘We are doing much better hiring South Asian people.’ But we have no one who is Black in a senior role, editorially. We have a cluster of Black people, but no one in a decision-making role. So it's almost like we can be there, but we must know our place. We have never had a Black editor in Africa – that's one of the most devastating things for me. There is just this tradition of white guys who get sent over and it just feels so colonial.” — Tina, 38


“The founder of my news outlet is very aristocratic [...] He felt I shouldn’t be there and I heard this from another colleague of mine. [He] had a major issue with me being hired. I was informed of this by a colleague who had been sent an email from the founder claiming because I am not white or British, I am not qualified to apply for this role.


“My heart just sank. I asked myself what was wrong with me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But this founder had a personal vendetta against me because I wasn’t white or British. I became depressed. I also saw the emails he sent trying to fire me. I have them in my possession, but to this day I can not read them due to fear of feeling helpless and useless again.” — Shirley, 31


“I always wanted to be a journalist from a very young age, from the time I was in secondary school... I did a media studies degree and then I worked on local newspapers and then national papers. The media studies course I did was very diverse, it was very mixed in terms of race and gender and regional backgrounds. The newsrooms I worked in were not very diverse.

“I never experienced overt or covert racism and I never felt I couldn't be myself. One day I would go in with a weave and the next with braids. myself. One day I would go in with a weave and the next with braids. I never felt I was held back. I know others have different stories but it just wasn’t my experience.

“I loved my career and I enjoy what I do. It’s an achievement when you get to fulfil your goals, journalism is a great profession because you are telling people’s stories and these are important. I started my career 20 years ago and it was always competitive, and if I am honest I probably got more questions asked about why I wanted to be a journalist from Black people. I would always recommend it as a career.” — Denise, 40