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Stop the negative connotations in local media, say racialized Calgary youth

Representation, language and truth are key to breaking down media barriers, say young racialized Calgarians.

Lack of representation, a celebration of diversity and a shift in language is needed in local media, according to young racialized Calgarians.

It was a conversation between the youth and local media held Monday at Calgary city hall. It was put together through a collaboration between the City’s Anti-Racism Program and local education leaders.

The youth shared their lived experiences and perspectives on local news reporting and the issues they perceived in media today.

“I feel like black trauma is a really big thing,” said Melat Ghebraha, 16, and a student at Notre Dame High School.

“There’s no reason why I should be watching shows about people who look like me, who continue lives, like I do, but you’re struggling, or there’s negative connotations associated to specific groups of people.”

Bow Valley College student Opemipo Olojabi said that she scrolled through local media’s talent roster and didn’t find too many people that looked like her.

“I don’t see myself in the media, or anyone that looks like me, or has the same background as I do,” she said.

“Probably one of the reasons why I don’t really watch the news is because I don’t see people like me.”

Celebration of uniqueness: Rea

Darren Rea, a University of Calgary student in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and a member of the Cree Métis community, said there’s wisdom and depth that comes from reporting on diverse communities.

“I want to see a celebration of the uniqueness and the humanity, the celebration of the cultures and the beauty in those cultures,” he said.

“If our reporting is focused on those things, then we’re empowering people through displaying what’s beautiful and what’s great about those people. Then, it only empowers them more to shine that light and be themselves.”

Jedidiah Akinloye, a UCalgary Computer Science student, said quite often people in the Black community are reported on as the “lost puppy dog case.”  He said a shift in mindset is needed.

“I just feel like I need to completely eliminate that negative connotation and stop portraying it,” he said.

“We have enough movies about the Black trauma experience. We have enough movies about this person getting killed, this person struggling…”

Ghebreha said that representation matters. The media carries a big voice and influences a lot of people. She said perception of minorities is a very big thing.

“There’s specific groups of people who are more experienced in the lives of minorities or how people are discriminated against,” she said.

“But I feel like if you are not, the media kind of fills in that hole. It allows for us to be portrayed in specific ways, and if that portrayal isn’t accurate, it allows for wrong notions or wrong ideas to be spread around on how the types of people we are.”

Building bridges

Dr. Linda Kongnetiman, the City of Calgary’s Anti-Racism Program Lead, in the Virnetta Anderson Hall at the Calgary Municipal Building on Oct. 24, 2022. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Rea said media has a role in lifting the voice of different communities to help them reach a broader audience.

“The role of the media, I’d say, to find the people that are passionate about sharing their message that have deep messages to share and lift them up, empower them and encourage them,” he said.

“Don’t ever say no and shut them down.”

Olojabi said the media needs to present content in a way that’s non-biased and non-filtered.

“The media contributes to people’s perspectives and people’s perspectives about a community, a group of people, or cultures,” she said.

She said media should do a better job of reporting on the truths of the people in their stories.

Dr. Linda Kongnetiman, the City of Calgary’s Anti-Racism Program Lead, said that the youth met with Mayor Jyoti Gondek. They said one area they wanted to address was anti-racist reporting. That led to the convening of the panel Monday.

“It’s not about issues. It’s not about barriers. It’s about an opportunity to move ahead and continue to attend to this,” she said.

“We all know that representation matters, as well as the narratives and the stories that we’re creating and building have lasting impact.”

Kongnetiman said the goal was for the sides to listen and relearn and to transition into acting differently.

“Looking at situations through the anti-racist lens, so that our youth, our young people, can experience less racial discrimination, less racialization and have more availability everywhere they are going to experience racial equity,” she said.