The Chicago Defender, legendary Black newspaper, has ceased printing after nearly 115 years.According to today’s story in the New York Times, by Monica Davie and John Eligon,
…the demise of The Chicago Defender’s print editions represented a painful passage for many people who grew up in Chicago and for those with memories of its influence far beyond this city. Of its many significant effects over many years, The Defender told of economic success in the North, and was seen as a catalyst in the migration of hundreds of thousands of black Americans from the South.
The article goes on to say,
The Defender delivered news of monumental events — the funeral of Emmett Till, the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the election of Barack Obama — but also of everyday life for black Americans, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
“We never saw ourselves listed other places in weddings, funerals, debutantes, so this became a real frame of reference for activities,” Mr. Jackson said. “My career would not be what it is today if not for The Defender.”
I won’t say “R.I.P.” because the Defender will continue–and, I hope, thrive–in its digital form. But the article caught my attention because the news hits in a moment when I, like many White liberals, am scrutinizing what it means to be a part of white supremacist society that benefits me even while I criticize it.
One thing it has meant, over the years, is a comforting sense of “Yep, I’m America,” while minorities, no matter how much I support their rights, remain just that: minorities. Not fully people with their own lenses, lenses which might cast me in a view I’d rather not face up to.
To battle this default, given that I live in a very White community, I’ve been reading and listening to challenging words. My current book is Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.
Part poetry, part essay, part lament, part witness, filled with art and filled especially with pointed pain, this small book skewers any notion of White righteousness with passages like this one:
Someone in the audience asks the man promoting is new book on humor what makes something funny. His answer is what you expect–context. After a pause he adds that if someone said something, like about someone, and you were with your friends you would probably laugh, but if they said it out in public where black people could hear what was said, you might not, probably would not. Only then do you realize you are among “the others out in public” and not among “friends.” (p. 48)
At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?
It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.
I am so sorry, so, so sorry. (p. 18)
Reading Citizen is painful. That’s why I’m doing it. I know The Chicago Defender was not written for me. That’s why I need it to exist. If I think about this a little longer, I’ll probably end up subscribing.
Yes. I think I will. Because if I’m okay with my lens being the only lens offered to Americans, aren’t I complicit in pushing everyone else out of the frame?