People of color who work in a white-dominated media landscape tend to shrink themselves in order to fit in.
And Demetrice “Dee” Jackson knows this reality better than most. But the former sports reporter and anchor at KSHB Channel 41 is fighting back and speaking out.
Jackson was recently let go without explanation by the station, which declined to renew Jackson’s contract with a little less than two months remaining on the agreement. He has spent the last week talking publicly about the ordeal.
Perhaps Jackson is committing career suicide for being so vocal. But that’s a chance he is willing to take.
“At some point, you just have to be true to yourself,” Jackson told me. “For me, yeah, I want to eat and make a living, but once you get a certain age, you are looking at the people behind you and your legacy. What are you doing to help other people?”
Last year, Jackson, 43, filed a race discrimination lawsuit against KSHB and its parent company, E.W. Scripps.
The Kansas City native and Lincoln College Prep graduate claimed in a court filing that he was twice passed over for a sports director position that first went to Frank Boal in 2015 and then to Joseph “Mick” Shaffer in 2017.
Both men happened to be white.
Scripps denied in court filings that Jackson was discriminated against based on his race. A spokeswoman for the company told The Star that E.W. Scripps does not comment on personnel matters. A trial is set for February 2020.
The legal process will determine if Jackson’s claims are valid. He spent 12 years as a sports director in Montgomery, Alabama, before returning to Kansas City in 2013 with the understanding that he would one day be named sports director.
That is no longer a possibility at KSHB. And by speaking out, Jackson knows he has put his career in jeopardy.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “This is about the people that come behind me.”
Jackson is the second African American reporter from KSHB to lose his job after suing the station for race discrimination. Lisa Benson Cooper was unceremoniously fired last year after suing KSHB in 2016.
J.A. Adande, a national sports columnist and associate professor and director of sports journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said he rejects the notion that people of color have to shrink themselves in the workplace.
“I would say it’s more like pick your spots to speak out,” Adande said. “But what I’ve learned is that no matter how selective you are, there are some people who never want to hear racial discrimination discussed at all.”
Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and an expert in race-based stress and trauma, said discrimination is baked into every social structure in the country. Navigating that terrain is dicey for people of color.
“We fly under the radar as much as we can just to survive,” said Williams, associate professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada. “But (people of color) can’t move forward if we are keeping our heads down. When we step out, it can be important and helpful.”
And being helpful to future generations is the No. 1 priority for Jackson at this point.
“There are a lot of people behind me that Lisa Benson and I are sacrificing for so they can make strides and take what we’ve done to another level,” Jackson said. “Not necessarily by being militant or protesting, but take their platform and use it to help other people.”