Opinion: Dear Newsrooms, I’m Not Biased, You’re Just Racist
At 22-years-old, fresh out of Undergrad, I truly believed talent and could take me places, but in this country, all my dreams come at a cost.
I walked into my first job interview for a local news station in central California. I was wearing a blue pleated midi dress, eager to be the change I wanted to see. Almost immediately after taking a seat, the news director asked me: “The little girl that died in an ICE detention center, who was responsible for her death?” He was referring to the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl.
I responded, ICE, of course; she was in their custody. He then told me I was biased and could not report objectively on immigration issues. That wouldn’t be the last time I would hear that. When I disclosed that I, too, was an immigrant, the question of “objectivity” would always come up.
And I can assure you these questions were reserved for people like me. White people, including white Latinxs, will never encounter this type of passive-aggressive hostility. White Latinxs have the unique experience of cosplaying as people of color with their last name “Rodriguez” and “Gomez.” They will get the privilege of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month while bypassing daily micro-aggressions. I, on the other hand, have an Italian last name and I can assure you no one has ever confused me for white.
I am now a local news reporter in Houston, Texas, a “top ten market,” and my industry would tout me as relatively successful. However, my journey in this industry has had me question the politics of representation and how the standard of objectivity is a racist practice.
I was faced with another reality on my job search: my apparent “brownness” was not palpable enough for the masses.
Ironically, I was first told this by someone in a Spanish-language network: “girls like you can’t wear hoop earrings.” Compared to other things, I was told this was a minor requirement. However, this moment made me realize the extent to which my face and body would be dissected more than my work.
In the summer of 2019, I continued my job search. I applied to more than a hundred jobs. I was genuinely determined to make it despite the setbacks and racially charged comments. One news director for a news station in southern California reached out to interview me. I drove two hours, wore my blazer, and came with a portfolio. When I walked in, I realized they never intended to give me this job in the first place. To this day, I am unsure why they even reached out. The interview was a panel of three white men. I sat in front of them and I so desperately wanted them to like me.
The questions began as generic interview questions, and then they took a turn. “Why do you have a Black Lives Matter post on your Instagram?” I said in a low but stern voice because Black people are killed every day for simply living. He said, “It makes you look biased, like you hate the police.”
I said, well, the data is there. I admit I was nervous. The next question was: “Why do you have pictures in a bikini on your social media? Don’t you want to be taken seriously?” I said, well, I can delete them. That answer, a solution, would not suffice. Another man on the interview panel spoke up and said, you don’t look like a reporter.
And he was right… I don’t. I grew up during the recession, September 11, at the peak of immigration raids. It was always white faces speaking in Spanish telling my family and me what to fear next as we huddled around the TV in our one-bedroom apartment. I remember leaving that interview feeling discouraged. I got home and cried into my pillow. We often speak of the physical repercussions of racism and all the isms. Still, we don’t discuss the mental exhaustion.
That job would end up telling me they couldn’t hire me because I was a liability. Ironically, summer of 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the massive global protests, they too would post “Black Lives Matter.”
The beginning of my career would be an unlikely but fitting place in Imperial County, right by the U.S. Mexico border. I covered the refugee crisis, the construction of the border, and the protest of that very wall. I was very proud to be there and tell the stories of people so often marginalized and demonized.
There was one thing: I had to be “impartial.” I had to take Custom and Border Protection’s word as fact. The only time it would be countered was by refugees, which they would always do. I noticed people who have lost everything always speak their truth because that was the one thing they had left.
My news station would run a story on “the plight of the Central American refugee” and on the next newscast an entire special on how Border Patrol are the “Angels of the Border.” It felt perplexing. I always justified it by saying at least these people’s stories are being told. At least their story will be archived in history.
The bare minimum, I realized, wasn’t enough.
Representation won’t stop the raids, won’t shut down the detention center, won’t end poverty, won’t stop injustice. Representation means nothing if we speak the exact words of our oppressors.
After my first job, I was no longer in the same position. I was more confident in my work and my ability. Despite more experience, the same issues persist.
At 26-years-old, I realized my role in this industry wasn’t what I thought it would be, and that is ok. What I am most proud of has very little to do with the job itself. I am most proud of connecting refugees with resources and sharing GoFundMe links to cover funeral costs for people whose loved ones died of COVID-19. It’s those intimate moments that made me feel like my work had merit.
I’ve realized dreams are a place of beginnings. They’re a starting point. They don’t teach you about rejection, heartbreak, insecurities. They live in the best part of us, in the courageous and creative. They remain wholly and hopeful even when we don’t.
Looking ahead, I don’t dream about how far I can go in my career; I am grateful to be employed during a pandemic, but now I dream of the little things.