A harrowing interview between Afro-Latina journalist Ilia Calderón and KKK grand wizard Chris Barker has reignited conversation about the emotional labor expected of journalists of color in a national news cycle gripped by racial tension and violence.
In July, Calderón – a nightly news anchor for Univision originally from Colombia – visited Barker on his North Carolina property, where she watched him lead a KKK meeting and sat down with him for an interview. Calderón is the first black person to ever set foot on Barker’s property, and the interview quickly descended into horrible insults and violent threats.
Calling her a “n*gger” and a “mongrel,” Barker cited the Bible while vowing to violently remove immigrants like her from the United States. “We have nothing here in America; y’all keep flooding it,” he says. “But like God says – like Yahweh himself says – we will chase you out of here. […] No, we’re going to burn you out.”
The interview footage shows Calderón composed in the face of this threat. “How are you going to do it with 11 million immigrants?” she pushes.
“We killed 6 million Jews the last time. Eleven million is nothing,” Barker replies.
It’s a terrifying exchange, one that Calderón later told Univision made her fear for her safety and the safety of her team.
While exposing the hateful beliefs of the white supremacist movements in this country to the American public is clearly in the public interest, interviews like these have raised complicated questions about the role of journalists of color in this kind of reporting. According to the 2016 Newsroom Diversity Survey, minorities make up just 17 percent of the newsroom work force. They provide essential perspectives about their communities that would otherwise go unseen or unreported. But they – black journalists in particular – are also often called upon the most to report on stories about race-related violence and hatred.
These are some of the biggest and most important stories in our nation right now, but they can also be emotionally distressing in distinctly personal ways for black journalists – and even put them at risk of physical harm.
Gene Demby described this struggle in NPR’s Code Switch:
“This work will matter in a way that so many other stories don’t or won’t. But this beat has also been distressing and unrelenting. I’ve come uncomfortably close to handing in my resignation, asking to cover anything but this. I can’t even remember which case or video got me to that point, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Over the past month, I’ve talked to a dozen other black reporters who’ve covered race and policing since Michael Brown’s death — or even further back, since Oscar Grant or Ramarley Graham — and it’s been a relief to learn that I’m not the only one. That sinking feeling when a hashtag of a black person’s name starts trending on Twitter, the guilty avoidance of watching the latest video of a black person losing his life, the flashes of resentment and irritation at well-meaning tweets and emails sent by readers asking me to weigh in on the latest development in the latest case. The folks I talked to for this story share many of the same, contradictory impulses I wrestle with when a new case comes to light, torn between wanting to jump on a plane — or start sketching out a long essay, as the case may be — and wanting to log out of Twitter and block out emails from my editors.”
Ilia Calderón stared unflinchingly into the face of evil and endured violent threats to expose the hatred of white supremacy. But is that what it takes to make people take notice?
Calderón’s full interview will air Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on Univision.