When it comes to talking about diversity and equality in sports, the conversations about feminism is oftentimes separate from conversations about racial discrimination. Women are underrepresented in sports, it is a known fact that has sparked countless movements to take place. People of colour are also underrepresented in sports leagues (looking at you NHL), and some are taking efforts to politicize the playing field to bring attention to discrimination on and off the court. Now as great as it is that the sports world is aware of these issues and is “trying” to do something about it, both these topics should not warrant separate conversations, rather should come under the same debate. Because what happens to people like me who tick both those boxes of identifying as a woman and a person of colour? What happens when I’m trying to pursue a career in an industry that’s not only heavily male dominated, but also overly white where I don’t see myself represented a lot? I often notice that lot of these gender equality panels do not take into consideration that as much as being a woman puts us at a disadvantage, women of colour not only have their gender to worry about, but also the colour of our skin and our nationalities that further pushes us down the ladder.
Before I delve in any further, I think it is important that I acknowledge the representation that Canadian sport media industry has done for South Asians as a whole. The existence of Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition in a white country is a huge win itself. It makes me happy that we get represented this way and that there is a large existence of such a fanbase. However, it is not enough that we just stop here because we have a lot of work to do and a long way to go.
Which now brings me to Amrit Gill. She was the first female host on Hockey Night Punjabi just five years ago and in an interview with the NHL, she has spoken up about how it took so long for a woman of colour to be represented at this level. She’s one of the few inspirations that I have in this field and she gives me a lot of hope that I too can make it one day, despite all the barriers, that still exist.
Amrit recently tweeted about her appearance on Hockey Night Punjabi:
At face value, this looks like a simple tweet of a woman showing her excitement and her gratefulness for getting to cover the Canadiens vs Leafs and Canucks vs Flames game. Yet some men took this as an opportunity to objectify her and to make extremely misogynistic comments, most of which has since been deleted, but here’s an example of one of them:
And this is where the problem lies. Because despite breaking barriers and doing what Amrit has done, it never stops. Women in sport are always questioned about their loyalty and have to always prove themselves if they’re true fans or if they’re worthy to be given a chance in this industry. And for racialized women, this struggle goes up x10. Because the struggle is not just about being a woman, its also about having to constantly prove your worth based on the colour of our skin. It becomes about working twice as hard to prove the stereotypes against people of colour are false. Our intellect and skills are always overlooked and undermined. We are only ever reduced to constant objectification and are just seen as ‘pretty objects’. And it is sad that these issues are still so prevalent even though society is making so many efforts to be progressive and inclusive. It is always about ‘developing a thick skin and stop being so sensitive’ and not about ‘no one from any background should feel threatened in the industry’.
My journey in this field is going to be a tough one and I am well aware of that. Identity shouldn’t be a barrier to anything we do and nor should it be something that organizations can capitalize upon for their two seconds of tokenism. If you are in a position of privilege, do not reduce minorities to just their struggles, because by no means you should see this as a sob story, but take this as an opportunity to get a different perspective and to strive for a better future. Change starts from learning and listening to our stories, and using your privilege to make it an equal playground. I can acknowledge the slight progress that the media industry is doing but I will not settle for the bare minimum, because I was raised to always fight for what i believe in and to do the work that makes such change possible.
This International Women’s Day, I want to bring attention to the everyone that identifies as a women of colour in the sport media industry. I want to say a personal thank you to Amrit Gill for paving the path for the many more to come, who look up to her and think “Someone like me made it!!”. Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the tons of privileged people who have good in their heart and make an active effort to understand minority struggles and want to do something to change it.
To the sport media industry, I hope that you do better in including racialized woman in your conversations about feminism. I hope that your advocacy comes from a genuine place and I hope that there will be opportunities for the many women of colour pursuing a career in this field.