On the heels of an in-depth New York Times investigation detailing sexual misconduct at the digital media company Vice, Jamal Jordan (pictured above) — a black, gay video journalist who used to work for NBC News and the Vice HBO show — published a Twitter thread detailing his experiences of homophobia and racism at those and other media outlets throughout his career. The Jamal Jordan racism and homophobia thread raises issues about ongoing workplace racism and homophobia in media and other fields.
On Twitter, the Jamal Jordan racism and homophobia thread takes off
He entitled the thread, “Re: Racism at @Vice and in the media world in general” and wrote:
The media world is outright hostile to people who aren’t straight white men. I worked as a television production assistant (PA) for two years before getting a gig as an associate producer at VICE, and then a full time position as a producer for VICE News. Here is some of what I experienced.
My first job was as a Production Assistant for a home improvement TV show. I was pretty sad the day Maya Angelou died. One of the camera guys made fun of me all day. We had to wear walkie talkies. He made racist and homophobic jokes throughout the day, on a walkie channel where everyone could hear.
I was at the bottom of the totem pole. I was afraid to speak up, and no one said anything. At the end of the day, he came to me and said: “Sorry for all the things I said today. I just hate gay people.” They fired me after 6 months.
A really great female director of photography hooked me up with a great gig as a camera PA on an HBO comedy series. The camera department — all white men — bullied me the entire time. One night, on an overnight shoot, I walked from set and started crying. The camera guys spent most of the season trying to convince me to quit, because I “didn’t seem very happy.” They started calling me “The Weekend” (the name of a black musician) because he’s another black guy with unconventional hair.
At VICE, I found out that I made significantly less than the other people on my team. My boss/VICE HR dismissed my complaints and told me that, by speaking up, I was making enemies in the newsroom. An executive producer on the nightly VICE HBO show, upon seeing Donna Brazille on screen at the DNC, said that she looked “just like Madea,” the character Tyler Perry plays in drag.
I was so pissed. When I brought this up to HR, I was told that they’d decided the comment “wasn’t racist” and that I should get used to this kind of environment. The EP (executive producer), the guy who personally hired me, never spoke to me again.
In most of these instances, I was either the only black person, or one of a very small group.
If you’re wondering why so few people of color rise through the ranks of media and the production, this is why: People seem to go out of their way to make us feel unwelcome. It’s hard to find support because other PoC (people of color) are encouraged to keep quiet about what they experience.
The racism is systemic. The editor-in-chief of NBC News even forbade me from posting about these things on social media! (I quit a few days later.) Other well-meaning black people have discouraged me from speaking to HR, because I shouldn’t become “that person.”
The most heartbreaking thing about VICE is that so many young people come there with a huge mission to change the world. When I started, my boss stroked my dreams of revolutionizing the way black people are represented in American media. He only ever greenlit my stories that were about white men.
We have a lot of work to do. We’re missing out on so many important stories from talented women and people of color. I refuse to accept this as “the way things are.” What would journalism look like if we didn’t push so many people away?
The Jamal Jordan racism and homophobia thread ended with his comment, “That’s all. I’m going to get drunk and build gingerbread houses with my family. I wish you all an awesome Christmas/whatever you celebrate!” The Jamal Jordan racism and homophobia Twitter thread currently has 5,047 retweets and 8,728 likes.
In their in-depth piece on Vice News, The New York Times discovered that the $6 billion global media company had settled four allegations of sexual misconduct or defamation against employees, including its current president. The New York Times also interviewed more than two dozen other women who had experienced sexual misconduct, including some who had allegedly been fired for refusing to have sex with supervisors.
In a joint statement, Vice co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi said:
From the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive. Cultural elements from our past, dysfunction and mismanagement were allowed to flourish unchecked. That includes a detrimental “boy’s club” culture that fostered inappropriate behavior that permeated throughout the company.