There are times, like when watching footage of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., that racism bombards the senses like a virus, leaving your skin sore, your soul hardened and your spirit fatigued; a disillusioning, full-body wizening that disrupts, destroys and (occasionally) ends lives.
And then there are times when the racism is so scenery-chewing and over-the-top ridiculous—basically, the racism is every Papa Pope soliloquy on Scandal—that you suspect it was devised in a “racism factory.” But on the day each of the workers was tripping on Molly.
The Stephen Foster statue in Pittsburgh—which sits between two world-renowned universities, the Carnegie Museum of Art and the main branch of the Carnegie Library—qualifies as the latter.
But before we continue about the Stephen Foster statue, let me share a couple of personal thoughts about it.
- I’ve lived in Pittsburgh practically my entire life.
- I’ve walked or driven past this statue at least 300 times ... including once today.
- I didn’t realize, until reading about it in The Incline an hour ago, that this statue even existed.
Actually, that last part is somewhat misleading. I’ve always known that there’s a statue where that statue is. But I’ve never actually, like, looked at it. It just exists perpetually embedded in the Pittsburgh landscape like a wallpaper pattern you’ve grown to ignore.
But wait until you read why this thing even exists! (For the record, I’m so giddy about what you’re about to read that I wish I could somehow forget that I read it just so I can experience reading it for the first time again, too.)
It’s not yet clear what will happen to the statue of Foster, composer of “Oh, Susanna,” “Camptown Races” and musical numbers for a slew of blackface minstrels.
The statue depicts Foster (who was white) looking regal above a banjo-playing black man in tattered clothing. The statue, which sits near the University of Pittsburgh campus on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, was commissioned in 1900 by a local newspaper editor who imagined Foster, “catching the inspiration for his melodies from the fingers of an old darkey reclining at his feet strumming negro airs upon an old banjo,” per a 2010 City Paper article.
Adnubffbucndunikfdbyuker!!!! Did you read that fucking quote? Holy shit, that quote is so flawless that I wish I were single again just so I could take it out on a date. We’d start at the 20/20 exhibit at the Carnegie. And we’d leave halfway through to get chorizo tacos with extra pico de gallo and pear San Pellegrino from El Burro. And then we’d end up back at my place, where we’d watch the first half hour of Burn After Reading until we went back out to my stoop to ... OK, THIS HYPOTHETICAL DATE IS GETTING TOO SPECIFIC, BUT I COULDN’T HELP MYSELF BECAUSE DID YOU READ THAT FUCKING QUOTE?
In a 22-word span, it 1) incorporates the always underrated “darkey” (which has a much racister sting to it than plain ol’ “nigger”), 2) uses “negro airs”—a phrase I wish I had heard two years ago because that’s totally what I would have named my daughter, and 3) explicitly depicts Stephen Foster literally stealing ideas from black people.
The statue stands just for you to say, “Here’s this world-famous musician snatching songs from this old nigger no one gives a shit about.” And this magical Negro exists just to feed Stephen Foster money, like goldfish crackers fed to a real, actual goldfish.
This is, without a doubt, the whitest thing that has ever happened. Perhaps equally white things have happened in the past. But nothing surpasses this. This is peak white.
Please, people of Pittsburgh, I implore you. Do not topple this statue. At least, not until I drive by it again so I can hug it, take a selfie with it and maybe take it on a date, too. I just hope magical Negroes love chorizo.