Thursday, August 27, 2015

Don't Let Your Job Make You Snap: Discrimination, Mental Illness and Reactions to the Shootings of Virginia Journalists

Shooter Vester Flanagan's on-air name was Bryce Williams
I was absolutely shocked when I went online Wednesday morning and read that someone killed two journalists live on air and the gunman was a former co-worker. My prayers go out to the loved ones and colleagues of WDBJ reporter Allison Parker, 24 and cameraman Adam Ward, 27. What they all endured was inhumane.

According to various news sources, the motive for Vester Lee Flanagan killing these young journalists was racism. Flanagan was a gay black man. He alleged that Parker made racist remarks, and after reporting her she was later promoted. Ward reported Flanagan to HR after one day of working with him. BuzzFeed reports a year after Flanagan was fired he filed a lawsuit against the station for harassment, racial and sexual discrimination and retaliation. Memos from the station claim he was difficult to work with and made others feel uncomfortable and threatened. They referred him to get help. WDBJ fired Flanagan two years ago and his anger was stewing ever since. Flanagan also settled a race discrimination lawsuit with Florida station WTWC in 2000. 

I don't know if Flanagan's allegations about WDBJ are true or not. I don't excuse his rage and I certainly don't agree with fighting racism, with hatred and violence. However, I do want to discuss racism in journalism. It's not uncommon in this profession. I’ve experienced both racism and sexism in the newsroom and other media jobs. I had one job where I pitched ideas during a meeting and no one responded. Yet, when a white guy suggested the exact same thing minutes later, everyone raved. One time a Black male colleague tried to hug me and then told me to sit on his lap. I’ve been underpaid by, self-proclaimed “feminist” supervisors, despite having more education and work experience than other co-workers.  My point is racists, sexists, jerks and morons exist in every race and gender. And yes they work in the newsroom.  Thankfully, I’ve also worked with wonderful men and women of all races who continue to support and uplift me. Still, I understand how incredibly frustrating it is to experience racism and sexism or be held back by them, when all you want is to work and grow in your career. Sometimes it’s not your job duties that annoy you, but the people you work with.


When people are driving you so crazy on your job, that it’s taking a toll on your mind or body, it’s time to leave.  I wanted to write about this even before this recent shooting.  My last job became stressful because of office politics and disorganization. Some of my co-workers were hospitalized due to stress.  Working there made me physically sick. I developed fibroids and digestive problems. The daily drama was toxic to my body. Budget cuts to my department was the best thing that happened to me. I believe if I stayed, I would’ve had a mental breakdown or a stroke. I know of a few people that died from the stress of their jobs. A relative told me that a friend of theirs was found dead at his cubicle hunched over his keyboard. No job is worth losing your life or sanity over. If you don’t think the workplace is going to change for the better -- get the heck out of there. Figure out a plan, look for other jobs, get training, go back to school, do something.



Journalists and victims Allison Parker and Adam Ward. 



Oprah shared in this great interview with Stanford Business School that when she was co-hosting a local show with a male, she made less. She asked her boss for equal pay and he said no because she was single and didn’t have a family. Her co-host had a family and therefore was entitled to more money. Oprah didn’t fight it, she left the station. And look at her now!  I’m not arguing against fighting injustice at the workplace. During that time, gender discrimination was taken as seriously. Oprah said she knew the situation wasn’t going to get better. She could’ve allowed the job to get the best of her; instead she sought out another place to work.

And after you leave that job, let that stuff go. Flanagan admitted to carrying a lot of anger after being fired, and in his life. He said that he endured homophobia and racism from other people. Anger can be consuming whether you have a mental issue or not. He wrote that the shooting in Charleston was a tipping point. I imagine those people who died in that church wouldn’t agree with him killing, especially out of hatred. He killed Allison Parker and Adam Ward, but inflicted more pain on their loved ones and his loved ones. Killing them didn’t solve anything. Flanagan was from Oakland and I’ve seen his relatives on the local news here since the shootings. I cannot imagine what his father is going through. I cannot imagine how the parents of Allison Parker and Adam Ward are feeling.



As for the mental health component to all of this:
All of these major shootings have been at the hands of men. We need to encourage men to express their emotions, feel their emotions. Discouraging men from feeling sad, hurt, etc. by saying they’re less than a man is damaging. Some of these men are in emotional pain, and their solution is a gun. I guess that’s because expressions of anger and violence are considered more manly. To me it takes more strength to work through your pain.  I’m not sure if Flanagan was going to therapy. Some of these killers have mental illness. But people kill whether they have a mental illness or not.

Marginalized communities need more emotional support and tools in how to handle the psychological impacts of discrimination and stay mentally healthy. Oppression can take a toll on your mind. We hear so many stories of gay and trans youth killing themselves because family or peers do not accept them. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. can impact others psychologically as well.

I heard in a news story today that Vester Lee Flanagan texted a friend after the shooting and said he did something stupid. Stupid is not the word. What he did was wrong and sad.  





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