Canadian MLK Day reporting ignored King’s legacy
Why did coverage focus on Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau’s vocal performance?
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day is meant to commemorate the life and achievements of the famous civil rights leader. This day often provokes intense debate regarding what King actually stood for, as well as how much (or little) progress has been made in the fight against racism since King was assassinated. These debates often act as a catalyst for worthwhile reflections and reporting on racism and King’s legacy from journalists across the world.
Canadian newspapers, however, had other ideas on what was relevant on the holiday this year, focusing their reporting on the very important and nuanced issue of Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau’s vocal performance at a (problematic) MLK Day event in Ottawa. On a holiday designed to celebrate one of the most influential black radicals of all time, Canadian newspapers decided to report on a powerful white woman’s theatrics.
The National Post and The Globe and Mail also published articles and videos about her performance. The only other article from the three publications on MLK Day discussed how South Carolina would be celebrating.
Some may say that MLK Day is an American holiday, so it’s not relevant for Canadian publications to discuss the holiday. This is drastically misleading, however, as events commemorating the holiday are held throughout the world. Moreover, King’s message was always universal, and the racism he condemned is still present everywhere today, including Canada.
As such, Canadian publications could have reported on the thousands of people who protested throughout the nation in the past year, fighting the same issues King faced 50 years ago. There was the Black Lives Matter movement, protests against carding and marches against police brutality.
These publications could have also used the various MLK Day events around Canada as a hook to discuss systemic racism and inequalities, and the individuals and organizations working to shatter them. Instead, Canadian publications decided to publish articles calling for praise for Grégoire-Trudeau, the wife of a prime minister, simply for singing a song. Not praise for those tirelessly fighting against racism, reflecting King’s life and ambitions.
This lacklustre reporting is another symptom of the unbearable whiteness of Canadian journalism, as well as the prioritization of clicks over content. The ailing industry will continue to suffer until this two-pronged infection is cured.
Davide is the blog editor of the spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. He also works as an associate editor for the Islamic Monthly. Davide's articles have appeared in numerous publications including Al Jazeera America, The Globe and Mail and the National Post.