speaking up

Talking About Diversity Earns Men Praise, Women Rape Threats

Photo: Getty Images

The Tweets started simply enough. “Would you like to write longform for @BuzzFeedCanada? WELL YOU CAN.

“We want pitches for your Canada-centric essays & reporting,” tweeted BuzzFeed Canada writer Scaachi Koul. She followed up a few minutes later: “BuzzFeedCanada would particularly like to hear from you if you are not white and not male.” And then: “Last thing: IF YOU’RE A WHITE MAN UPSET THAT WE ARE LOOKING MOSTLY FOR NON-WHITE NON-MEN I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU GO WRITE FOR MACLEAN’S.”

Koul, who has worked at BuzzFeed for less than half a year, spent the next few hours tweeting follow-ups and responding to those criticizing her. Less than 48 hours later, her Twitter account was deactivated and her Tweets were unavailable for public consumption. A small sampling of her @-replies over the past few days leaves little question as to why she has taken an extended break from a place where she is generally quite active and outspoken. “BuzzFeed Canada’s Scaachi Koul openly hates White males, no prob. Canada was built by White men. Go back to India!” reads one tweet (Koul is Canadian-born and of Indian descent, to be clear). Another says, “Go back to India and get gang raped you fucking Racist Immigrant!! Don’t bring your third world mentally here SHIT FOR BRAINS!!”

BuzzFeed, which declined to comment for this story, has been very outspoken in its mission to encourage diversity, and it’s been lauded for its efforts. And Koul, who wasn’t posting a job, but asking for pitches, was saying exactly the same things that have earned other people (hint hint: white men) rounds of applause in the past. Here is a quote from the masthead of the Awl (which was until this week run by a pair of white men):  

We should take a moment to note that The Awl receives the most pitches from the people who pitch the most—the same people who flood every open submissions box on the internet: dudes. Mostly white ones who are young but not that young, probably already working in the media or possibly in grad school, who have been taught from a very young age that not only do their voices deserve to be heard, but that people are waiting for them to speak. [And yet, why so loud, still?] And, sometimes, sure. But, very often, the people who are the most convinced that they and their work are a perfect fit for The Awl should strongly consider why they feel that way; nearly as often, the people who have convinced themselves that they don’t deserve to be here are the ones who should be pitching.

And here is website the Classical on its submission guidelines page, which appears there in bold: “Women, people of color and LBGTQ writers are strongly encouraged to submit pieces.”

The content of these messages is identical to Koul’s: They would like very much for women and people of color, whose perspectives are underrepresented in internet journalism, to submit pitches. Fair enough, right? So why did the Awl get praise (Awl co-editor John Herrman, when asked if he’d received any rape threats in response to the submission guidelines, replied “no,” though he did say they occasionally get an “incredibly long and angry email” about them), while Koul got rape-threated off of Twitter? Could it be because she is not a white, or a man?

A 2014 University of Colorado study found that women and people of color in corporate leadership positions who “promote diversity” are evaluated lower than their co-workers, but white men who do so don’t suffer. What this tells us is that the diversity message is something everyone can get behind — but only if it’s delivered by a white man. In that case, it’s seen as gracious and magnanimous, forward-thinking and progressive. If you’re not white or a man, well … good luck.

Talking About Diversity Earns Women Rape Threats