“I’ve never understood the anger and exclusivity of many people of color like this one,” a comment reads.
“They hang out with people of color and sit at the colored table making no efforts to get to know me, then blame me and say they don’t feel welcome.”
The commenter was, supposedly, one of my white classmates at Harvard. The article was an opinion piece I published in my college newspaper, The Crimson, about how the experience of Latinx students at Harvard has for decades been one of marginalization. As an opinion writer, my writing has always been open to scrutiny. There’s no feigning, in editorial writing, that your article’s perspective is absolute or conclusive. It’s open to counter-points, to being pulled apart by readers willing to engage with it. You publish pieces to further conversation on a particular issue, offering the articles as punching bags in the arena of public discourse.
Yet when I write about issues pertaining to my identity—my race, ethnicity, my experiences as someone marked Other at Harvard, in the United States, in a world built on social stratification—I am reduced to being a kettle of emotions. Like the commenter suggests, I’m nothing more than my supposed anger. It bleeds into every sentence I string together, every piece of punctuation used to convey my sense of rage.
Except that my pieces are not very angry. Their tone, though it does vary, is generally balanced and straightforward, especially on pieces that have required archival research or other forms of in-depth reporting. I care about the issues I write about, and I hope that the significance of talking about race, ethnicity, and marginalization shines through in my writing.
But often, because of who I am, I’m reduced to an angry journalist, an angry Latino writer. The amount of research I’ve put into the piece, the sources I’ve cited, the logical argument I’ve constructed—it all falls to the wayside. I am simply angry, whiny, bitter, or, as an email informed me, an “asinine snowflake.”
If these assumptions came simply from the outside—from these nameless, faceless voices on the Internet—they’d be easy to shrug off. Their assumptions of my anger would translate into nothing more than a race-tinged misreading of my articles. The label of angry Latino journalist, though, has seeped into perceptions of my capacity as a journalist.
This, of course, is not a phenomenon exclusive to my experiences at a college paper. April Ryan, a black journalist who covers the White House, has been targeted by the Trump administration. After asking Press Secretary Sanders if the president had ever considered stepping down, Ryan received a number of death threats. “I’m angry about the fact that people are ginning people up to come after me for that,” she responded. “I’m viewing the attacks as partisan. But that question had nothing to do with politics.”
Ryan, like many female journalists of color, has had her work as a journalist scrutinized through the lens of her race, gender, and identity more broadly. For decades, the newspaper industry has been staffed, led, and run primarily by white men. The demographics of newsrooms have slowly shifted, but reporters from underrepresented backgrounds still find their assignments and articles scrutinized through the lens of their identity.
Being perceived as “angry” (or a number of related emotions) can be a detriment to a journalist’s career, because it seems to undercut their objectivity. In a political moment when the role and importance of journalism are up for debate, such accusations cut deeply; objectivity is held up as a standard all journalists ought to aspire to.
Yet this is perhaps the grandest lie of journalism: that there is such a thing as pure objectivity.
There is, of course, true and false information. Journalists go to incredible lengths to correlate accounts and shape stories before they are published. But the way stories are framed, the words chosen to couch the facts, and the narratives that are put forward are all shaped by the writing and editorial teams. Perspective matters. Subjectivity is both inescapable and essential to good journalism.
“Objectivity,” in this context, has simply meant “the status quo”—an objective journalist perpetuates certain narratives, covers certain communities, deems certain stories worthy of coverage. The status quo has long been dictated by newsrooms much less diverse than cities in which they are based.
Thus, as journalists of color make inroads in the industry, they are perceived to produce work that is less objective. As Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa puts it, “As journalists we never want to be part of the story… [Yet] as journalists of color, we are part of the story.” The sorts of stories journalists of color pursue are often deemed biased because of the communities they belong to or identify with. In turn, their writing is unjustly scrutinized as emotional, angry, or political—the furthest thing from objective.
This double standard is a national phenomenon. And yet it has also been an intimate part of my career as a college journalist, one that has taken a very real, bodily toll on me in the past year or so.
A year ago, I threw my name in for consideration for a high-level leadership position within The Crimson. I’d served as the editorial chair in 2017, and I was willing to devote another year’s worth of hours, stress, time, and energy to seeing through the initiatives I’d put begun. But I also knew that my involvement with on-campus activism and the body of work I’d produced—often critical, often read as angry—would hurt my chances.
So I played politics, marketed myself in a way that was palatable to the people deciding on my future at The Crimson. I tried to hide my emotions, placing a smiling face in front of the very human confusion inside. My work over the past year was the product of dedication and competence. And yet I worried that my peers, like some of my readers, would boil me down to my comportment—not necessarily as it was in reality, but as they perceived it.
Ultimately my bid was unsuccessful, and, in a decision that still feels unjust, I was left off the organization’s masthead entirely.
I’ll never know how perceptions of me outside of my credentials played into the process. But given the different standards journalists of color are held to when it comes to their emotions and presumed objectivity, odds are that perception played a role.
This could be just another story about the need to overcome failure, or another story about the way the newspaper industry is stacked against people of color. And perhaps it is both of these stories. But when you strip back the argument I’ve presented here, this is most of all a story about how being perceived as angry comes with visceral consequences.
The first time I went to therapy, I spent most of the time talking about The Crimson. I did not tell my counselor about how I so often felt I was walking within a shell of myself, as if my actual being had shrunk inside my own skin. The days I spent feeling grounded, present, and fully aware of the world around me were slipping away.
I still haven’t completely processed my stint at The Crimson. I so desperately wish that as I step through the door of our building, I could stop worrying that others see me dressed in anger, an shining red A on my chest. But misconstruing anger is not an act exclusive to virulent racists or raging conservatives. When your peers are those who assume that anger accompanies your skin, your politics, your entire being, the toll is disorienting.
My experiences have made me seriously question whether or not I can ever pursue a career in journalism. I worry that my anger, this mostly monstrous and imaginary friend on my shoulder, will stand in the way.
Above all, I hope the day will come when I’ll be allowed to be something more than an angry journalist of color. I hope I can shed this anger, an old layer of skin that has never felt fully mine, and experience my emotions without worrying about how it will affect perceptions of my work.
These dispatches are a plea. Allow me to feel the way my white peers can, freely and without inhibition.