I am an African-American journalist. An unspoken but understood part of the job is the likelihood that I will be attacked because of my race.
This is not a new phenomenon and it is not limited to Black journalists. During more than 30 years in radio and TV, I’ve gotten thousands of angry letters, phone calls and emails.
But the latest one, containing unbridled, racist rants, has led to one of the most humbling, selfless and difficult acts from anyone I’ve ever met.
My boss, who happens to be white, stood up for me — publicly.
Joel Oxley, the general manager of WTOP, took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter that was published Wednesday on WTOP.com, rejecting the hater, standing by my work and sending the message that we are living in a new day.
Dozens of emails and messages have poured in, congratulating him on taking a stand against hate. People across the country and as far away as Germany have called to express their appreciation.
Let me be clear, no boss, regardless of race or gender, has ever gone this far for me.
Thankfully, there have always been superiors willing to express to me their disdain for racist communications directed at me. They encouraged me to keep pressing on. However, no one beyond us ever knew about it.
Joel Oxley is the genuine article. He’s one of the relatively few people in this world that runs toward trouble instead of away. As he said in his letter, we met playing basketball. It was a Washington, D.C. media league. We played for opposing teams, but like everyone in our league of multiracial professionals, we cared about the game, our business and each other.
Since I joined WTOP, I can say for sure that in my darkest moments, such as when I lost my father, Joel checked on me. When I tore my Achilles tendon, he was there on the court. When I traveled overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times during the height of those wars, he never said anything, but I later learned that he kept tabs on me and my safety.
So, while extraordinary, his response to that hateful letter is vintage Joel.
Some may wonder why the big deal. The big deal is that by Joel Oxley standing up against hate, he willingly made himself a target and established himself as a true leader in the fight against racism.
That for him is normal.
Joel’s decision to take a public stand is important for multiple reasons. Yes, what he did brings me a tremendous amount of satisfaction — knowing that he and my teammates appreciate my work enough to publicly applaud it.
But, more importantly, it shows leaders in our industry and others how to send a clear message disavowing racist acts; and how investing in a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment over time is a weapon against hate and bigotry.