Rreading the sorry story of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, an African American, in the U.S. media left a bitter taste in my mouth. So much in that narrative reminded me of difficult moments in my own career. Trying to find work in the media as a Somali refugee has taught me the perils of race in the newsroom. We don't know if the high-powered but mendacious journalist was allowed to turn out endless fabrications because of his race - but the optics are, shall we say, coloured.
As minority job hunters, most of us don't set out to find a job hoping to exploit the notion of diversity. But we often can't avoid feeling that white interviewers are busy calculating the ways their company can benefit from hiring a visible-minority staffer rather getting inspired by the skills we are offering.
Then there's that moment when you enter the newsroom and face the possibility of being more important as a symbol of tolerance than as a researcher and writer.
A senior journalist once advised me not to be shy about using my ethnicity to my advantage, to play on the white guilt of my editors. The advice was belittling, deflating. It was like saying my skills weren't good enough. But I can see my friend's reasoning. Newsrooms, especially those of large metropolitan dailies, are wired such that young reporters need to attach themselves to an editor who can mentor them and bring them along.
It takes skill to play the game - Blair did it well, heaven knows - but generally those from a minority culture find themselves at a disadvantage. I often found that if I wasn't talking to my editors about the weather, we weren't talking.
When good fortune strikes for someone like Blair, critics will say he was favoured because of his colour. When the shit hits the fan, they will say he shouldn't have been hired in the first place.
Do we all have to pay a price for the pathology of Jayson Blair?