Saturday, July 11, 2015

Days Of Absence

Social scientists hastily convened a high level confab this weekend to study a recurring phenomenon that threatens to take the shine off Pittsburgh's lustrous reputation as a city on the rise.

The sociologists, ever fond of jargon that will enable them to craft complicated descriptions of simple facts, have dubbed the phenomenon "ebena evanesca," (sometimes reduced to "the E2 problem") which roughly translates into "disappearing black people."

To put the matter simply, when journalists or other media representatives turn their eyes upon Pittsburgh to seek out what makes the city special, black people consistently disappear from view. The resulting media coverage therefore makes the city appear even whiter than it is.

In a time when corporations and government bodies alike take every opportunity to highlight their progress in fostering diversity, such white-bread presentations of Pittsburgh may well make it less of a destination for the 20,000 new residents that Mayor Bill Peduto wants to attract here.

But the presentations persist.

ITEM: In April 2012, Details magazine ran a feature about East Liberty that somehow portrayed the neighborhood with no black people. 

Details is a national publication; their story essentially told the world, "East Liberty is soooooo cool - and there ain't no black folk there!"

All of the black people who do live and/or work in East Liberty? POOF!

ITEM: In March, 2014, Pop City published a list titled, "Sixteen Pittsburgh social media mavens to follow." There were no black people on that list, despite there being a bunch of black people in Pittsburgh whom a bunch of people (not all black!) consider to be worth following.

So, Pittsburgh's black digerati? POOF! POOF!

Now, TIME Magazine has produced a video about Pittsburgh's comeback, titled "Pittsburgh: The Comeback," in which they talk about the whole steel-to-eds-and-meds story that many of us could probably recite in our sleep.

Except that we won't get asked to, even when we're awake. And by "we," this time, I do mean black people, because for this 10-minute video, TIME magazine only spoke with white guys (or at least, we only see white guys speaking. Maybe they spoke with some black people but edited them out?).

So, black people who might have useful/interesting things to say about Pittsburgh's transformation? POOF!

Wait, it gets better: even when the video acknowledges the realities of segregation and racial disparities in Pittsburgh, they didn't even find a black person to say anything about that. POOF! POOF, POOF!

The confab was convened in response to the video, said University of Pittsburgh sociologist Dr.Thomas Foolery.

"It seems obvious that, as the song says, there's something happening here - but what it is ain't exactly clear," Dr Foolery said. "When media appear, black people disappear, en masse, in a day of absence that would make Douglas Turner Ward shiver, exercising a collective invisibility beyond Ralph Ellison's imaginings."

Dr. Foolery is conducting "a longitudinal study that attempts to determine whether black people circumnavigate and perambulate around media representatives whenever they appear, or whether media representatives do their own circumnavigation and perambulation."

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that TIME, in fact, accomplished a trifecta - as NEXTpittsburgh noted - by simultaneously excluding people of color, women, AND anyone under 40 as interviewees in "Pittsburgh: The Comeback."

The high point of the video for Dr. Foolery and his colleagues will undoubtedly come at the 8:30 mark, when Douglas Heuck, editor of Pittsburgh Quarterly and director of Pittsburgh Today, says, "Pittsburgh ranks at or near the top of all sorts of quality of life measures across the U.S." - while a slide appears of an article with the headline "Behind The Times: The Limited Role of Minorities in the Greater Pittsburgh Workforce."

And the beat goes on.
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