Being black in the alt magazine world

Man, I feel like I finally understand what people mean when they say your work is your life. I’m gone by 8:30am and don’t get back til 7 and by then, I’m so tired I can’t do anything but eat my fried rice and toast with Nutella. (I shall be jogging on the weekends to mitigate the damage).

I work downtown at an entertainment magazine. And I love it. Even when it’s supposed to be boring, I still find it interesting. Half the time I can’t believe I’m actually there– with a company email address, my own desk, my own phone. Transcribing interviews and (once so far) writing my own stories. It’s awesome.

And very white. 

Now, my magazine has a lot of gay people. It’s makes sense; there’s a gay and lesbian section in the magazine. But it’s not as if all the gays are in that one section. The senior editor is gay, the web designer, one of the people in the kids section, a lot of people in photography and art. They are fully integrated into the magazine. In fact the magazine’s employment book explicitly states that it does not discriminate based upon sexual orientation and the section on paid leave puts weddings/commitment ceremonies in the same sentence. Heck, last week’s cover was of a man plastered in rainbow paint in honor of this weekend’s upcoming Pride festival. If you’re gay, it’s more than okay. It makes sense. It caters to the magazine’s demographic. But it’s also why the overwhelming whiteness of the magazine doesn’t make sense to me. On my first day, I was the ONLY PERSON OF COLOR. And when I say only, I mean only. In the whole office. And it’s a large office. It takes a lot of people to get a magazine to run, not only do you have the editorial team (or edit as they call it), you’ve got advertising and HR and other stuff I didn’t quite catch on my whirlwind tour the first day. But yeah, walking into that office, I felt so aware of my blackness. My literal blackness. Like the actual color of my skin. There were no Hispanics, not even any hipster Asians. It was all white. Except for me*.

My favorite hipster

Racial homogeneity in the mainstream journalism world is particularly confusing to me. Because it is illogical. It really makes no sense. Publications thrive on the diversity of ideas. At some point that diversity begins to run out when everyone shops at the same thrift stores, wears the same nonprescription glasses, eats at the same Wicker Park restaurants.  Eventually those  fresh ideas come to a screeching halt. And the thing that kills me is that most journalists are painfully aware of these disadvantages. They freely admit it. But admitting it is not the same as doing something about it and this is so often where people stop. If you have the gall to say that Chicago is an extremely segregated city, why not take the first step and try hiring more minorities as staff? If you write a feature on gentifrication, why not mention black hair the next time you write a story on the best salons in the city? If you are truly committed to racial diversity, you’re going to have to step up to the plate.

Today, a black guy was waiting for the elevators on the way out. We both looked at each other. “You an intern?” He asked. “Yes.”  I said. “Edit?” “Yes?” “Cool, cool.” He said. “What department do you work in?” I asked. “Marketing.” he responded. He asked what school I went to; I told him and he said I was smart (that’s one of the cool things about working in a culturally-savvy office; people have actually heard of the University of Chicago and you get to feel all hoity-toity). As we stepped off the elevator, he told me that I should stop by his desk if I have any questions or concerns.

He didn’t say it in a creepy, coming-onto-me way. He meant it in that ‘go forth young sister’ way. I can’t fault him. Because we’re both black in the alt magazine world.

*Turns out that I’m not the only black person in editorial! One of the staff writers is black! Yay. And the woman that hired me is really awesome and really passionate about racial diversity on staff. That’s cool. So I definitely don’t mean to come across as all doom and gloom.


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