If you are the type of person who pays attention to this sort of thing, you might have noticed that Pittsburgh is often lauded nationally for being an attractive place to live. The Economist named it America’s Most Livable City in 2014. A writer for MTV referred to it as the “new Brooklyn.” The Washington Post called it the new Portland, Ore. There are so many lauds like this that last year, a Pittsburgh-based blog published an entire list comprising them.
Pittsburgh is also the second-whitest major metropolitan area in the country. When I share this tidbit with black people who’ve been to the Burgh, many of them express surprise because, to them, the city seems much blacker than that. But their perception is skewed because if you’re in Pittsburgh and you happen to be around black people, it’s likely a hypersegregated space, which could lead you to believe that it’s an accurate or close-to-accurate representation of the city’s demographics. But once you leave those few places where black people live and congregate, you’re firmly ensconced in stark and boundless whiteness.
It’s a city that has never had a black mayor and has so little black political traction that no black person has ever even been close. The black middle class consists of, like, 17 families, 37 transplants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s easier to list the black-owned and black-centered businesses, lounges, bars, clubs and restaurants that don’t exist anymore than the ones that currently do. And if you’re a black parent and you want to send your child to a high school that’s both high achieving and diverse, well, bless your heart.
When you have an environment that combines the very active and public promotion of its attributes with the not-as-public and not-as-flattering treatment of its black population, editorials like “Reason as Racism: An Immigration Debate Gets Derailed”—which I promise you is the worst editorial you’ll read in a major newspaper this year—are able to exist and be printed and be co-signed by a paper’s entire editorial board. On Martin Luther King Day.
To be fair, although this piece is attributed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board, this is primarily the doing of John Block, the paper’s publisher and editor-in-chief. The notoriously conservative Block family also owns the Toledo Blade, where the piece first appeared. According to a source at the PG, the rest of the editorial board fought against Block republishing this. But since he’s the owner, he can do what he wants. Fortunately, so can I!
Anyway, the first line of this editorial, below, lets you know you’re in for a ride. And by “a ride” I mean “a ride on a roller-coaster at Six Flags Over Racism.”
Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism. The charge is pernicious. The accuser doesn’t need to prove it. It simply hangs over the accused like a great human stain.
In less than 30 words, he both attempts to decry racism hysteria by hysterically comparing racism to McCarthyism (???) and sets the framing so that people who call other people racists are the villains, not the racists themselves. John Block’s face will be on Whitesplain Mount Rushmore.
It has become not a descriptive term for a person who believes in the superiority of one race over another, but a term of malice and libel — almost beyond refutation, as the words “communist” or “communist sympathizer” were in the 1950s.
Moreover, the accuser somehow covers himself in an immunity of superiority. If I call you a racist, I probably will not be called one. And, finally, having chosen the ultimate epithet, I have dodged the obligation to converse or build.
“BUT IF I CALL YOU A RACIST FOR CALLING ME A RACIST, BUT THEN YOU CALL ME A RACIST, NO ONE WILL BE A RACIST BECAUSE WE’LL BE TOO BUSY EATING THIS RACIST LASAGNA WE JUST BAKED TO EVEN HAVE TIME FOR RACISM. PLUS, HOW CAN YOU BE RACIST WITH A BELLY FULL OF RACIST LASAGNA DELICIOUSNESS?”
If Donald Trump is called a racist for saying some nations are “shithole countries,” does that help pass a “Dreamers” bill to keep gifted young people in this nation — people who have something to give the United States and are undocumented only because they were brought here by their parents illegally?
That’s a weird-ass fucking question, but I’ll try my best to answer it.
Um, probably. Yeah, I’ll go with probably. It probably doesn’t help pass a Dreamers bill if the president of the United States is a racist who refers to countries black and brown people are from as shitholes. I didn’t go to Yale like you did, John Block, but I do own a Yale coffee mug from speaking there once.
That’s the goal, is it not? To save the Dreamers? That’s what the White House meeting last week was about. It’s what the whole week was about, until we went down the “racist” rabbit hole.
We were having an immigration debate. To the president, it is a reasonable goal, and one that most Americans would agree upon, to want to naturalize more people based on “merit.” We want more people who can contribute to our culture and economy, and they tend to come from stable nations.
We didn’t “go” down the racist rabbit hole. It’s not like we were walking past the racist rabbit hole and heard that Chick-fil-A was giving out free sandwiches down there and thought to ourselves, “Shit, this racist rabbit hole has free chicken! Let’s see what’s down there!”
No, we were led down there by the Willy Wonka of racism.
If the president had used the world “hellhole” instead, would that have been racist?
If he had used the word “failed states,” would that have been racist?
The language wouldn’t have been explicitly racist, but the insinuation that the continent of Africa comprises nothing but failed states would have been racist.
But there are nations that are hellholes in this world. And there are failed states. It is not racist to say that this country cannot take only the worst people from the worst places and that we want some of the best people from the best places, many of which are inhabited by people of color. That’s not racism, it is reason.
You are a white man, so I do not expect you to know how racism works because most of you, unfortunately, don’t. BUT YOU ARE THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF A MAJOR NEWSPAPER, SO YOU SHOULD KNOW HOW LANGUAGE WORKS AND WHAT WORDS MEAN, YOU CLUELESS FUCK. He didn’t say “hellhole.” Or “failed states.” Or “attractive investment properties.” He said “shithole.” He said those words out of his own shithole, and the connotation was clear.
Yes, we should take in unskilled refugees. We also want more Indian Ph.D.s and engineers.
Yes, I ate some pancakes this morning. I also want to go to the mall later. What the fuck is your point?
If Sen. Dick Durbin wants to disagree about placing merit at the center of our immigration policies, if he wants to take an unlimited number of unemployed and unemployable people because, after all, that’s what most Poles and Irish were called in the 1900s, let him say that. And let Mr. Durbin and the president debate two concepts of American immigration policy honorably and finally find a middle ground where there is agreement and common purpose.
This means nothing. This paragraph means nothing. Its existence confounds me. I read this and immediately felt compelled to do some yoga.
But, when we have a chance to reform the immigration system, and save the Dreamers, and find common ground, let us not get distracted by another cudgel to use against the president. Calling the president a racist helps no one — it is simply another way (the Russia and instability cards having been played unsuccessfully) to attempt to delegitimize a legitimately elected president.
No one—no, seriously, absolutely no one—has argued or is currently arguing that Trump’s election was illegitimate. Where did you even get this from? A fortune cookie? A telegram tattooed on Rick Santorum’s ass? The presidency is delegitimized by the past, present and future actions of the man we elected president. He doesn’t need our help!
Did the president use a crudity in a private meeting? He says he did not. No one who was there has said he did on the record. But if he did, so what? So what? America today is a sadly crass place where many of us use vulgar, corrosive language we ought not use in private and work conversations. How many of us would like to see and share a transcript of everything we have said in private conversations or at work? And how many presidents have said crass things in the Oval Office in private meetings? Think of Kennedy, Clinton and Nixon, to name three.
“No, Kimmy, I didn’t cheat on you with my secretary’s stepniece. But if I did—and, again, I didn’t—so what? Everyone cheats with hot stepnieces. I know that you’ve cheated with a few hot stepnieces yourself. Do I have any proof? No. I know you don’t have a secretary. And I’m not even sure if you have any stepnieces. But none of us is immune to the allure of the hot stepnieces of our secretaries.”
If the president is wrong on immigration — on merit, on finding a balance between skilled and unskilled immigrants, on chain migration, on the lottery — let his opponents defeat him on these points, and not by calling him a racist. If he is to be removed from office, let the voters do it based on his total performance — temperament as well as accomplishment — in 2020. Simply calling him an agent of the Russians, a nutcase or a racist is a cowardly way to fight.
Block finally circles back to the premise of the piece. Racism isn’t bad or cowardly; recognizing racism and articulating it is the true danger. The true evil. This entire piece is an exercise in gaslighting. When it’s done on the Post-Gazette, I think this editorial is going to buy a fedora and get a Tinder profile.
We need to confine the word “racist” to people like Bull Connor and Dylann Roof. For if every person who speaks inelegantly, or from a position of privilege, or ignorance, or expresses an idea we dislike, or happens to be a white male, is a racist, the term is devoid of meaning.
Sure. While we’re at it, let’s confine the word “murderer” to Jason Voorhees. And “carpenter” to Jesus. And “artisan foodie” to Jeffery Dahmer. And “club promoter” to David Koresh. And “useless white man” to John Block.
We have to stop calling each other names in this country and battle each other with ideas and issues, not slanders.
Go fuck yourself, John Block. How’s that for an idea?
Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated that Allan Block was the writer of the “Reason as Racism” op-ed. He was not.