Why Would NY Mag Hire A White Writer To Write On The President’s Relationship With Black People? » VSB

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Why Would NY Mag Hire A White Writer To Write On The President’s Relationship With Black People?

Before I read the first sentence of a new story published by New York Magazine entitled “The Paradox of the First Black President,” I ran a Google search of the author’s name, Jennifer Senior. I’ve seen her byline before, as I am a regular reader of the publication, so I didn’t doubt her credentials, and I wasn’t interested in her resume. No way a piece of this length (it’s over 5,000 words), would be given to some cub reporter. I was more interested in finding out what Senior looked like. Lo and behold, this is what came up in my search, her personal website, with a headshot of her, a White woman, on the bio page.

I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, let out a sigh and then continued to read the piece. From top to bottom, it is a good piece that I encourage everyone to read. Without spoiling anything, there is even a paragraph, three-fourths of the way through, in which Senior breaks away from the third-person and inserts herself into the story. She doesn’t do this as a White woman but rather a journalist who once interviewed Obama before, back in 2006. It’s a small moment but serviceable, a slight way of reminding the reader not only is this not her first rodeo of writing about Obama.

This isn’t the first time I Googled the name of a writer whose byline was attached to a piece about Black issues or Black people. I have been doing this for as long as Google has been around because as a Black writer who writes a lot about Black people, both famous and not-famous, the race of other writers who do the same is a pertinent issue for me. This is especially true whenever I see a piece about Black issues pop up in a mainstream publication like New York Magazine. It’s my own little personal diagnostic test to see which one of us, if any, made it to the so-called big leagues of publishing.

Of course, Obama and any articles about him or his family is a different subject entirely. When writing about him as a President, it isn’t always about race. It can be about politics, it can be about policy, it can be about life in the White House with his wife and two kids. The business of writing about the President of the United States has a long tradition in media. But ever since Obama was elected, a cottage industry within media has popped up based on him being the first Black president, and Senior’s piece is a perfect example of this. It is not a story about him being yet another American President, it is about him being a specific type of president for a specific group of people and how he’s doing within that group. Senior does some thorough reporting to get an idea of sorts by talking to a respectable handful of smart Black people, but she herself cannot give any keen insight into this question because she is not Black.

As a professional journalist who knows first-hand what it’s like to sit at editorial meetings for mainstream publications, I should know better than to hold something as cosmetic as the race of the writer against the piece. It is not fair to the writer, and to be clear this is not anything personal against Senior. I don’t know her at all. But without pausing or blinking I can list off ten very talented Black journalists who could have written the piece Senior wrote with more nuance and more depth than what was published. So whenever I see a piece like this one, I will always wonder why no editors at New York Magazine bothered to give a talented Black journalist the call to do this piece.

Saying something like that does me no favors as a professional. Often times whenever Black people take issue with the dearth of their own in any field, it can either come off as basic (which is why so many people’s canned response to any complaint by black people is, it’s not about race) or self-serving. I realize that some people may read this and think that I’m mad because I didn’t get the call to do this piece, but this is not about me. This is about my peers, the ones who as I said, are qualified to write a piece just as smart and just as compelling as what Senior wrote, but also could have brought a dose of relativity to this piece that is hyper-specific in its subject matter. Writers like Rembert Browne, Jamilah Lemieux, Zerlina Maxwell, and Gene Demby are not qualified because they are Black, but they are Black writers who are qualified.

Underneath the headiness of this piece is a noble idea put forth by New York Magazine that I appreciate. It is that throughout Obama’s presidency, all lives have mattered to him, but to Black lives, he has mattered more and so New York Magazine wanted to check in and see if we felt our love for him was being reciprocated. But they didn’t realize that in their deep rolodex of writers who are qualified to write about the President, the boldest move they could have made in crafting this piece is done a search outside of that rolodex and enlisted the services of one of the strong Black voices in media who have risen up in the Obama era. To somehow get a sense of how our nation’s first Black President is faring among black people, they didn’t think it was important for a Black writer to be the one who was asking the questions. They didn’t realize to understand Obama’s relationship with Black people in the era of Black Lives Matter, a Black writer matters too.

Jozen Cummings

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called the Empire Afterparty and he works at Twitter as an editorial associate. He lives in Harlem, graduated from Howard University, and grew up in Seaside, California. He cannot get you a blue check.

  • Courtney Wheeler
  • Laura Charles

    “It’s not about race” I hate that statement. As Paul Mooney once said, it’s always about race in this country. With that said, I enjoyed your insight. So many excellent points. Very good piece!

  • Eh, I don’t mind in the case of Obama because national level Black writers treat Obama like peewee league even if in their outside politics they’re constantly quoting and citing Black Panthers,Malcolm X, etc

  • Nick Peters

    Because white people will always white people…I don’t know why we stay shocked whenever it happens.

    • QuirlyGirly

      True, these days with white people being the gurus to all things black we should just take what they say as gospel and learn not to refute them. #sarcasm

    • LouLou

      I don’t think there’s anything that read as being shocked in this post or needing to be shocked about NYM allowing this particular writer to write a piece on President Obama and his relationship with BLACK people, but an observant take on how there is and can be a written piece that can resonate to all readers especially, on a focus on President Obama and his relationship with BLACK people; emphasis, on Black because that take should be brought to the threshing floor by a living and breathing Black writer; who by default, have a much more keen voice in fleshing that proposed piece out because of the nooks and crannies, nuances and suggestion that they can possibly unfold because they have firsthand experience with that particular matter verses a scope of observation from a writer looking outside in that balance. Because, whatever style a writer takes in writing, they still infuse the essence of their reality i.e. the reality of their experience, prior knowledge, opinions, thoughts, viewpoint and perspective. In which, he stated that,”…This is about my peers, the ones who as I said, are qualified to write a piece just as smart and just as compelling as what Senior wrote, but also could have brought a dose of relativity to this piece that is hyper-specific in its subject matter.” In the end, creating an even more juicy and hyper-real take on the present subject on President Obama.

    • SirCharles

      Many moons ago I watched The Last Samurai. Afterward, I couldn’t help but think, “Ah, Yes, of course a white man would be the last samurai”… I am not surprised…

    • Wild Cougar

      I’m not at all shocked that someone asked why people are shocked when no one indicated shock at all. Some negro will, to appear smarter than everyone else, and I just wait for it.

  • YeaSoh

    Nice piece, Jozen! I hope the NY Magazine EIC gets a to read this.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Jozen has:

    Dried out form all the homecoming drinking
    Posted bail
    Back from his spiritual retreat

    and blessed us with a post. Nice piece homie!

    • Andie

      Nice description of homecoming

  • Peaches

    Oh, you didn’t know? They’re always the foremost experts on anything regarding POC.

    • ALM247

      Some (not all) of them think that they are experts on EVERYTHING. It’s sad.

  • Medium Meech

    So one of the ad windows for this page says “Find the sweet Asian woman you were meant to be with” for a Chnlove.com. The other one says “Dating site for men of the 70s, Join Free, Chinese-Ladies.com”. I was not born in the 70s, nor do I have an affinity for Chinese women. I’m not exactly sure how this ties into your story, but I’m pretty sure it does and in a very profound way.

    • nillalatte

      LOL.. Meechie… someone is using your computer honey. I get Gypsy Horses, Cymax (furniture), and Wayfair. Tell the Chinese to leave you alone. :P

    • Wild Cougar

      I get hotels and Saks Fifth Avenue………lmao

  • LMNOP

    Why’d they go with a white writer? One part ignorance to four parts racism with a heaping spoonful of driving up traffic by pissing people off.

    It’s an old media recipe handed down from generations that didn’t even have the internet.

  • ALM247

    Because white supremacy says that white people are experts on everything, even Blackness.

    • fxd8424

      And they want all the toys.

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