Someone Tell Former eTalk Anchor Danielle Graham About Intersectionality, I'm Begging

Graham is suing Bell Media for gender discrimination in part because a Black man was promoted to a role she thought was hers.

logo

Stacy Lee Kong

Jun 17 2022

13 mins read

0

Image: instagram.com/daniellegraham

‎Sometimes, I get a glimpse of how white journalists experience Canada’s media industry, and it’s just so… wild. This week’s reminder came courtesy of Danielle Graham, the one-time co-host of Bell Media’s flagship entertainment show, eTalk, who is suing the company for $1.2 million (plus $1.3 million in other damages) over allegations of gender discrimination.

According to a National Post article about the lawsuit published over the weekend, “she claims she was fired in direct response to her pressing a complaint of ‘constant, persistent and systemic gender discrimination which she received as a woman at Bell.’” The suit alleges that she was dramatically underpaid compared to male anchors Ben Mulroney and Tyrone Edwards, and wasn’t offered the same perks they received, including chauffeurs and additional compensation for work outside of eTalk’s regular episodes. She also says her manager responded to news of her second pregnancy with a blatant, “Oh fuck, again?” and that she was denied accommodations while pregnant. Furthermore, when she was laid off in March 2022, she says she was offered a severance package of only three months’ pay, despite 17 years of employment at Bell. In comparison, her husband, Randall Graham, received four times that amount when he was laid off from his role as creative director of brand partnerships at the company.  

‎Sadly, that’s not what’s wild, though. (A lot of what she says happened to her sounds pretty on-brand for Canadian media, actually.) The wild part is that she opted to name Edwards, a Black man, in her lawsuit, saying that “he was promoted over her despite his ‘gross incompetence’ because the station is an ‘old boys club.’” To be clear, most of Graham’s allegations seem valid, and I think it’s great that she has the resources, support and privilege to file a lawsuit forcing the company to address her claims. It’s the part where she decided to malign a Black man in the process that’s not working for me.

Some thoughts on seniority

Graham started at eTalk in 2007 as a reporter, when Mulroney was already a host of the show, so she wasn’t surprised that he received better treatment. That was true even after she was promoted to co-anchor in January 2015, replacing former co-anchor Tanya Kim, who had been laid off the previous November. But Edwards was hired as a reporter after her promotion, and she did not think it was fair for him to get those perks when he was more junior than she was. She also felt betrayed when he was promoted above her, replacing Mulroney when the latter stepped down in June 2020. According to her filing, she “had always accepted second-hand treatment relative to the main host, Ben Mulroney, but was led to believe that, upon his departure, she would become the senior anchor.” But then, the Post reports, Edwards was “‘inserted instead and provided the preferential treatment previously provided to Mr. Mulroney,’ despite her claims he was less experienced, unaccomplished, wasn’t a superstar or an audience favourite.”

‎There is a lot to unpack here: first, it’s cute that the Post only said Mulroney stepped down “to make way for more diverse voices.” That was certainly the official reason, and businesses in all sectors were suddenly much more concerned with diverse hiring post-George Floyd's murder and the subsequent ‘racial reckoning.’ Still, I think everyone knew that Mulroney actually stepped down in the aftermath of a massive scandal involving his wife, Jessica, who was accused of racist bullying by influencer Sasha Exeter earlier that month. This is important context; summer 2020 was the height of the so-called ‘reckoning.’ As I said at the time, big companies are risk-averse, and at that time, potentially appearing racist by hiring yet another white person for a senior role would have felt like a risk in a way that it hadn’t before. Mulroney even acknowledged this in his farewell statement, saying, “it is my hope that the new anchor is Black, Indigenous or a person of colour who can use this important platform to inspire, lead and make change.”

Now combine that general feeling with the fact that Bell was hiring for Mulroney’s job, only months removed from Jessica and Exeter’s dust-up. This is not to diminish Edwards’ talent or imply he was only chosen for this role because of his race, but it is necessary to acknowledge the role optics played in Bell’s hiring decisions. For the first time in basically ever, media companies had to grapple with the unspoken but very real barriers they have historically instituted, which kept racialized, and especially Black and Indigenous, people out of leadership positions. There were also many more eyes than usual paying attention to who they hired and promoted—and companies were hyper-aware of this fact. So, it's obvious that Bell promoted Edwards for two equally important reasons: first, they were acknowledging he deserved the role and second, it would have been a PR disaster if they filled that position with a white person when so many talented racialized people, Edwards included, were right there for the hiring.

‎Second, grossly incompetent? Unaccomplished? In my experience, racialized people do not tend to get jobs—especially on-camera jobs—if they are anything less than excellent, so I find it pretty unbelievable that Edwards would not only move from the relatively niche RapCity to the company’s flagship show, much less land another gig as the host of Gusto’s DNA Dinners, if those things were true. What’s more, as former producer and eTalk employee Stephanie Hinds pointed out on Twitter this week, Edwards may not have met Graham’s standards, but as a Black man, he brought important context and experience to eTalk’s coverage and quickly became integral to Bell’s handling of that summer’s ‘racial reckoning.’ “Edwards does a lot for that network,” she wrote. “He bared his soul on THAT episode of The Social, and many more after it. If he hadn't delivered the exact message he did that day, it wouldn't have resonated with the hundreds of thousands of people it did.”

‎But also, let’s talk about the idea that being somewhere for a long time guarantees you meaningful career progression. Edwards started at Bell Media in 2011, four years after Graham, and she believed her seniority made her more entitled to the senior anchor role than he was. So… remember that viral hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen? Well, that’s how I feel about seniority. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, or had someone imply, that I was too junior for a job, title change or raise because someone else (yes, of course, they were) had more or even similar seniority, and it would ‘cause problems’ or make them ‘feel bad.’ I have also lost count of the number of times I have seen people leapfrog up the career ladder because, in those cases, seniority didn’t matter (yes, they were, too, though it’s true that this most often happened with cis men). The factors that determine who higher-ups promote are obviously more complicated than just race, but Graham’s belief that her years of service equates to more talent (fact check: not necessarily) and that execs should have prioritized her regardless of Edwards’ talent, internal relationships and/or external connections (he’s friends with Drake and this is an entertainment show) is a clear example of white fragility. Anyone from a so-called marginalized group knows it’s never that simple.

… Can Black men even be part of old boys clubs? (No.)

And what about the idea that Edwards belongs to the ‘old boys’ club’? As French artist Katya Bonnenfant, who goes by the moniker The Old Boys’ Club, explains on her site, these networks are “informal system[s] by which money and power are retained by wealthy white men through incestuous business relationships. It is not necessarily purposeful or malicious, but the Old Boy’s Network can prevent women and minorities [emphasis mine] from being truly successful in the business world. It entails establishing business relationships on high-priced golf courses, at exclusive country clubs, in the executive sky-boxes at sporting events, through private fraternities or social clubs, et cetera. These are arenas from which women and minorities are traditionally excluded and thus are not privy to the truly serious business transactions or conversations.”

While Bonnenfant is correct that contemporary old boys’ clubs may not purposefully exclude women and minorities, let’s not forget that the term comes from literal alumni associations in the U.K. public school system, which (unlike public schools in Canada and the U.S.) are actually exclusive, prestigious private boys’ schools like Eton and Harrow. As the Guardian’s Caroline Palmer pointed out two decades ago, these are closed opportunity systems that “still influenc[e] who gets into the Oxbridge colleges, and by implication the top jobs” in the U.K. Maybe this is confusing if you didn’t grow up having to identify and navigate whiteness, but race is actually as integral to the existence and functioning of these networks as gender, even if no one explicitly says so.

I don’t know Graham, so I have no clue if she was just upset that a Black man was promoted over her or if her legal team recommended attacking a former colleague to strengthen her case. (She’s being represented by the controversial but much-in-demand Howard Levitt, who counts Rogers Communications, Corus Entertainment and both Jordan Peterson and Lindsay Shepherd, the Wilfrid Laurier University TA who was accused of creating a toxic environment for trans students after she showed a clip of Peterson during class, as clients. Levitt is known for leveraging personal attacks in the courtroom.) Either way, though, the idea that Edwards’ gender affords him enough privilege to cancel out his race is so stupid it’s laughable.

Do we even need to go over the stats at this point? (I mean, we obviously will, but we shouldn’t really have to.) According to Statistics Canada, half of the Black people in this country have experienced discrimination in the past five years, often in the most mundane of places, like stores, banks and restaurants. A 2020 report from consulting firm BCG and civic engagement org CivicAction found Black students are four times more likely to be expelled from a Toronto high school than their white peers, Black university graduates only earn 80 cents for every dollar that white grads with the exact same credentials earn and Black adults are four times as likely to experience discrimination at work than their white colleagues. And ICYMI, the Toronto Police Service finally released the race-based data it has been required to collect since 2020 this week, and what do you know! It turns out what Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups have been saying for decades is backed up by numbers: these groups are overpoliced, especially if they are Black. As the Globe and Mail explains, “Black people were 2.3 times more likely than white people to have police point firearms at them—the highest level of force—when they were unarmed. Police meanwhile were 2.7 times more likely to use the lowest level of force (categorized as “physical or other force”) on unarmed white people compared with Black people.”

So yes, Edwards is male and likely economically privileged—but his Blackness, and the fact that we live in a white supremacist society, means he can never truly belong to an old boys’ club. What's more, it is ridiculous for Graham to pretend that she is navigating systems of oppression, but he is not. Even Oprah faces racism, okay?

This isn't like Jenn Valentyne’s recent allegations against Corus—except for one thing

To some people, Graham’s lawsuit feels similar to another Canadian media personality’s recent allegations of gender-based discrimination against a former employer. Last month, TV personality and former radio host Jennifer Valentyne released a 13-minute video detailing the abusive behaviour she faced from a former co-host, and the ways the company they worked for ignored or diminished her complaints. (Valentyne didn’t name names, but it didn’t take long for Twitter to pinpoint the alleged culprits: John Derringer, host of Q107’s Derringer in the Morning, and the station’s parent company, Corus Entertainment.) 

‎Valentyne detailed horrifying instances of verbal abuse: “What would you do if a coworker screamed at you, belittled you, called you names, shut you out, brought you to tears, and then laughed when he told you to cry all you want? That he didn’t feel one bit sorry for you, and let you know with utter conviction that if you went to HR, they would choose him?” she says in the video. She also explained how execs at the company deliberately chose to prioritize an accused abuser’s comfort over the woman he was allegedly mistreating. That’s not at all the same thing as a Black man being deemed worthy of promotion over a white woman—and conflating the two plays into existing stereotypes about the danger Black men pose to white women.  

That being said, I do think there is one thing these two situations have in common: the way news outlets have disregarded race. The Post obviously didn’t get into the racial dynamics of Graham implicating a Black man who, as far as I can tell, had no authority over her in a lawsuit about gender discrimination, but race was also a factor in the Valentyne allegations, even though both she and Derringer are white. That’s because there was already reporting on previous allegations of discrimination at Corus, but it was about racialized people and conducted by a journalist of colour—and unsurprisingly, it was largely ignored in the aftermath of Valentyne's video. In December 2020, Vice journalist Manisha Krishnan published an investigative piece about former Global News host Supriya Dwivedi’s decision to quit and file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission because “the company’s refusal to enforce journalistic standards on talk radio resulted in her receiving an increase in racist comments and violent threats.” That article was a follow-up to an August 2020 article detailing the overall toxic and racist culture at the company, informed by interviews with a dozen current and former Corus employees. As far as I could tell, not one story covering the allegations against Derringer mentioned either of Krishnan’s pieces.

‎And isn’t that totally emblematic of Canadian media's lingering problem with race? So many of the people who work in this business still can’t recognize that whiteness exists, much less how it works, which means discussions of oppression remain one-dimensional—and racialized people always suffer the consequences of that ignorance.


And Did You Hear About…

This fascinating, troubling essay about a grandmother in her 60s who denies the school shooting at Sandy Hook happened. (And yes, she thinks Uvalde was a hoax, too.)

Variety’s feature on how the true crime genre went from unscripted (and often seedy) TV shows to scripted prestige dramas.

The return of “Rescue Me” parties in NYC.

The racial politics of Harry Styles’s fanbase.

My favourite Stranger Things trope.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter

Danielle Graham
Tyrone Edwards
media