Thursday, July 16, 2015

36 Hours in Pittsburgh (and a Lifetime in America)

Portrait of the author as a malcontent
in the audience.
Let's consider this an open message to the editors of the New York Times.

I'm a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently reside in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville. I've got friends and acquaintences all over this city, and I can say with pride that I've curated a pretty eclectic, multi-faceted group. A lot of them are movers and shakers, creatives and business owners, and it was through this network I found out a few months ago you were planning to do a little travelogue-type piece on our town.

I  was really looking forward to it, and having now seen 36 Hours in Pittsburgh I can say with pride that you really make a number of our local destinations shine. I've been to many of these restaurants, businesses, and art spaces and love them. Lawrenceville is (heavily) referenced, and since I live right around the corner from a lot of the places shown, I have a very personal appreciation for what you managed to showcase.

Here's my question though: where are the Black people?

Seriously, in a city with a 26% Black population (that's a quarter of the local populace, which is double the national average), you're going to tell me there wasn't a single place owned, operated by, or even employing African-Americans that merited mention? None were interviewed at all, even just to comment on the city, and only two are shown briefly onscreen (a bicyclist who flies across the screen at the 0:09 mark, and another shown later at 5:01 drinking at a bar, for a combined screen time of less than three seconds in a six-minute video). I'm pretty sure that in thirty-six hours in Pittsburgh, it's likely you would run into some Black people.

There are nine locales featured in the video:  La Gourmandine, Salt of the Earth, Cure, Bicycle Heaven, City of Asylum, Rowhouse Cinema & Atlas Bottleworks, Arsenal Ciderhouse, Grapperia, and The Livermore. Several more are mentioned in the accompanying article, including Wigle Whiskey, Bread and Salt Bakery, Pageboy, and WildCard. Going by the math, it would have been representative to showcase at least a couple of Black-centric destinations. And just so it's clear, I'm not denouncing a single business referenced in the article or video. God bless those places for getting the coverage they did. I frequent a lot of them and still will. They're a large part of our city.

But once more, where are the Black people?

Here's the reason for this blog post: The New York Times credits six people altogether with the production of the article, photos, and video. I can verify you had at least three people, presumably the writer, the photographer, and a videographer, here in Pittsburgh touring the city. How? I saw them when I was attending Row House Cinema (which I LOVE, by the way!) on the day that segment was shot. If you pause the video at 3:59 and look at the fuzzy, brown/black African-American head in the upper-right of the screen...that's me. I swear.

What's funny is that at one point during the movie, one of the visitors walked up to the top tier where I sat alone and aimed his camera directly at me for several minutes. I acted casually and continued to watch the film, but I thought I would be a lock for inclusion. Not only had they picked up on my natural photogenic looks and ease before the camera, I was the only person of color present while they were showing BOYZ 'N' THE HOOD. I was representing! They had to include me right?

And I guess they did, technically. There I am, blurred out and unrecognizable. So, I suppose Black people weren't left out of this entirely. We were just obscured to the point of not being worthy of acknowledgement.

If the purpose of this video was to promote Pittsburgh as a lively, viable, attractive region to the NYT's audience, the absence of people of color brings up a question: would their presence have made Pittsburgh appear less lively? Less viable? Less attractive? The other videos in the 36 Hours In... series span the globe, making me wonder if someone from Vilnius, Lithuania or Chengdu, China or Split, Croatia or Lima, Peru - all places featured in previous segments - saw your piece on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, would they be surprised to see how many people of color live here?
Am I right or what? Someone get this
guy a modeling contract!

For that matter, would someone from New York be surprised? Were your reporters surprised...or did they even notice we were here? If so, one could never tell by that video. At all.

Come back to Pittsburgh and interact with the Black people. And the Asian people. And the Mexican people. You may or may not have intentionally excluded people of color during your 36 hours here, but we've collectively had a lifetime in America to get used to being ignored. Now we're ready to be included. You can do better than this New York Times, and you owe us all a do-over.

I'm still photogenic, and I'm ready for my close-up.


  1. i would love to know what the fuck they were thinking when they made that piece. my entire life i have lived in pittsburgh and the 36 hours the times most certainly doesn't represent the pittsburgh i see every day. (i am 44 years old, white, and female...but i live in the west end of town. maybe they didn't come my way? or spend any real time downtown?)

    1. Your guess is as good as mine. I like to think they produced their article and video with the best intentions, and the lack of inclusions was made more out of ignorance than malice. That said, it took a whole lot of ignorance up and down the food chain for that to end up online without anyone raising a hand to say, "It looks great, but...!"

      Even with the rationale that one can't see everything in a city in just 36 hours, that's no excuse for walking around with blinders on.

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. This is nothing new of course and all policy, development, home ownership, employment policy and practice is leaning more and more in this direction. So touching down in Pittsburgh and not seeing the Real Pittsburgh just Whiteburgh, it seems to me the blinders were intentional. Thank you for your words. Peace.

  2. Powerful topic. Powerful writing. (I'd expect no less from you.)

    ...and you are definitely photogenic!

  3. Powerful topic. Powerful writing. (I'd expect no less from you.)

    ...and you are definitely photogenic!

  4. Powerful topic. Powerful writing. (I'd expect no less from you.)

    ...and you are definitely photogenic!