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Politics, publishing and the dead horse

Do we have to keep beating this dead horse again and again? Shakes Sis hits the nail on the head (again) with a post on why the inner sanctum on the Left is full of bluster about “progressive ideas,” yet can’t get a grip that their “club” doesn’t look much different than the local Rotary — and they don’t seem to care.

What spurs Shakes Sis’s rant is a post by Garance Franke-Ruta on Tapped about the upcoming “Saving Our Democracy” conference, which is described as “a major colloquium to rescue our democracy from the far right.” The event, sponsored by The Nation Institute and The New Democracy Project only has two female speakers out of the 24 on the roster.

What’s nauseating are some of the comments accompanying the post basically take the view that “there’s too much in-fighting over representation, we need to focus on generating new ideas on how to win.”

Shakes Sis calls bullsh*t:

Not a shred of recognition that perhaps the ideological stagnation from which the Left suffers may be a result of its major power players still being predominantly white, straight, and male—which, by the way, wouldn’t be a problem if those particular straight, white males could and did speak eloquently to progressive issues of concern to women, gays, and minorities, but they don’t. And it’s not because they can’t—Paul the Spud can speak just as passionately about women’s issues as I can, and I can speak just as passionately about gay issues as he can. Extricating oneself from the responsibility of speaking to issues beyond one’s own demographic is a choice, and marginalizing the concerns of women (for example) as “identity politics” is indicative of nothing more than the unwillingness to identify with women.

Perhaps one reason this keeps happening is that the white, straight, and male progressives running the show like the circle jerk provided by hanging out with people they can personally identify with.

To me, it’s indicative of a complete lack of curiosity and imagination that can be due to many things, but I’d guess it is, at its core, a lack of experience with peers of a different gender or orientation or color that goes way back to childhood. It’s that old comfort thing. Extending one’s self to be friends with — not just work or attend school with — people from a different background takes more work for them. It’s work the circle-jerkers would rather not spend time on because they are focused on bigger, more important things, you know, like the “progressive ideas” that they don’t live, they just spout off about.

If they could step outside of themselves just for a moment, they’d see how absurd this all is. I’m not holding my breath, though.


This reminds me of Lizzy Ratner’s NY Observer piece, Vanilla Ceiling: Magazines Still Shades Of White. One section of the article is notable, since it mentions the good folks at The Nation Institute/The Nation, which is sponsoring the above-mentioned conference.

And the non-glossy Nation lists eight people of color among its 99 writers, editors, editorial-board members and Nation Institute fellows.

The Nation’s publisher and editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, acknowledged that the veteran weekly “need[s] to do a better job in this area.” But, she said, masthead statistics were only part of the magazine’s diversity story.

“We are always out looking for more diversity in terms of our writers, in terms of our editors,” she said, citing efforts to recruit more minority freelance journalists as well as a recently created Nation Institute fellowship for writers of color and a new conversation series between mystery writer Walter Mosely and other minority writers and activists.

The reality is that many progressive non-profits and magazines have this problem. I think it’s for many reasons — jobs in publishing tend to pay poorly at the bottom of the food chain; these jobs are considered somewhat prestigious jobs — even the low-level ed assistant positions are often filled by friends of friends, the daughter of your sorority sister, etc. They hire people they know — and these folks don’t know many people of color. It’s the classism-on-the-Left issue rising up again, something that comes up in brief flurries, gets hands wringing for a bit, and then dies down to business as usual.

Trust me, I’ve worked in publishing both here and in NY — it’s a problem across the board. That said, minority recruitment programs have a difficulty figuring out how to keep and retain people of color.

Perhaps, they said, a number of would-be minority journalists do opt out of magazines, either because they don’t see many models of advancement or because they could earn a far more respectable—or simply livable—salary beginning in any other professional field. (The class/race coupling can’t be ignored, and the entry-level salaries of journalism have a way of whittling out everyone but the elite.)

…”I think, in people’s minds, it’s not like, ‘Let’s not hire any black people.’ It’s just like, ‘I don’t really know any black people to hire, and I don’t really want to do the work to find out who they are,’” said Scott Poulson-Bryant, a founding editor of Vibe and author of the racy new book Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America. “People aren’t really that active about finding new blood, so to speak.”

As you can see, politics and publishing have a lot in common.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding