Monday, December 3, 2012

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Listening to Caucasian Girls

If you and I are friends on Facebook--or you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest madness from Inside Caucraysia, like I do--then you may have heard of or read the article "A Match Made in Harlem: A White Girl Reports from NYC's Legendary Neighborhood" on

If you haven't seen it--or, more likely, haven't been able to see it, as the page has been taken down--let me go ahead and paste portions of it here. Note: The quotes don't appear out of order, nor have they been edited. Because I know this has been all over the interwebs, I'd like to focus my attention on the apology from the editor of But first, highlights from CauCRAYsian Ivy Jacobson's article.

She writes that her uncle, who has lived in NYC for over 30 years, ripper her "about 50 new assholes" when he discovered she was moving to Harlem. But, you know, he did some reconnaissance and,

"After he assured my dad the neighborhood wasn’t completely terrible, but also pointing out the staircase in my building looked JUST like the one in a crack-den apartment in Serpico, he made me get mace (which I still carry) and named himself Deputy Commissioner of Ivy’s Security."

"If I feel safe in Harlem, what is the lingering stigma about Harlem that makes people scared for me?
First, frankly, it’s because I’m not a big, black thug."
[Note: this is the first of many references to "big black thugs" that appear in this article.]

"Do I feel safe? I never haven’t."
[Well this is just shitty grammar, most likely the result of some attempt to be witty.] 

"My roommate is muscular and black, so when we walk down the street together, people assume we’re just another hip, racially mixed couple to not mess with (we’re not, he’s gay). I like to pretend we’re Lady Gaga and Usher taking a stroll, just living our lives."

[Of course, the problems with these two sentences are worth a whole post in itself, but aside from the most obvious (Lady Gaga and Usher??? Are those the two most famous people you can think of, after referencing the 10-year-old television show Sex and the City and the music of Jay-Z?) I'd like to take a moment to address her black gay roommate. How has he not slapped this chick upside the head and set her straight? He is complicit in fostering her racism and ignorance.]

My favorite part:

"As opposed to many other Manhattan neighborhoods, there are no women on macrobiotic diets dictating to nannies on the sidewalks. On the contrary, women in my neighborhood let their husbands have it in the middle of the street, often wearing tropical-colored get-ups."

That language is straight out of a National Geographic. Not even Richard Attenborough would stoop so low when narrating a documentary about the rainforest, and he's all about the sensationalism (Hello, Planet Earth was straight-up tawdry!). 

The fact is, she means it--she's earnest in her love of her neighborhood. Ivy Jacobson is misguided and lacks self-awareness, which almost makes her sad. It's like she really doesn't know any better. She uses objectifying language from start to finish, relying heavily on stereotype and pop-culture references to situate herself and the reader within this "crazy world!" of Harlem.  She also spends much of the piece commenting on how people are so surprised that she lives in Harlem but doesn't actually get into substantive reasons for such assumptions.

Also, it's 2012 and gentrification is the new frappucino--Ivy, you ain't special!

So with that in mind, I find the Grantland editor-in-chief's "apology" to be even more disconcerting.

"The article in question was taken down for several reasons. Once frightening comments were made on this site — which are moderated for coherence, spam and profanity regardless of the article – and on Twitter, we reached a state of emergency.

HMGL — and I personally — apologize as sincerely as I humanly can to those who were hurt by this or any piece.

I also apologize deeply and profoundly to the story’s author for putting her in a compromising position.

For the record, no one receives any money off this site save for our host, GoDaddy, and WordPress, who I pay out of pocket.

Today has been a very trying day for this website, usually a source of joy to those who work on it and read it. I am quite literally sick to my stomach for any distress caused.

Again, please accept my sincere apologies.

You may contact me, a humble and imperfect editor of this site, via email:"

Before going into the implications of this apology, I'd like to note that this editor is the very same Matt mentioned in the opening of Ivy's personal essay.
"Matt asked me to explain what it's like to live in Harlem. 'What's a nice girl like you doing in a neighborhood like that?' he wondered."

He also linked to the piece in one of his previous posts with the "sensational" tagline: Want to know what it's like for a white girl to live in Harlem? [with a hyperlink to the article that  now cannot be found.]

So, before reading the "humble and imperfect editor's" apology, it's important to keep in mind that both he and Ivy (who I don't think could be put in a "compromising position," seeing as she eagerly wrote and sought publication for her piece) find the idea of her living in Harlem to be out of the ordinary and worthy of further exploration. In Matt's mind, Harlem is not for sweet girls from Tampa, but for poor immigrants who fight in the streets and are so thankful for each gentrifier's presence in their lawless neighborhoods. He fumbles for the words to express his discomfort, not exactly addressing what in the piece may have incited such ire (or, as he puts it, "a state of emergency." Um, if nasty comments are a cause for FEMA-like tactics, perhaps he's in the wrong line of work).

It seems that he's primarily sorry that people got so mad that they said things that hurt Ivy's feelings.

I don't think hiding the article as though it never happened--and then removing comments that called out the many layers of offensiveness--is a professional or mature means of handling it.

When I posted the piece on my FB wall, I got over 60 comments--you'd have thought I just got engaged (but I'd just gotten ENRAGED!). This isn't my way of saying I'm popular or whatever. I use it as an example of how much conversation and emotion this article sparked. I'm having dinner with a friend tonight, and when we firmed up our plans via email she wrote:

Also, I'm looking forward to talking about that horrifying "White Girl in Harlem" piece you posted to fb. My wife and I talked about it for over an hour on Friday. We seriously could not get over it. The discussion that followed on your facebook wall is what facebook was made for :).

For reals! We can't just shake our heads and move on. Ivy Jacobson may have been the writer, but she didn't invent these beliefs--and she didn't decide to publish them on a website. We need to put out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

1 comment:

JJS III said...

I missed this on Facebook, but I am "SMH" at all the white people. ::sigh::