the attention span for institutional change? however long it's fashionable

If you missed last week’s Hilton Als piece for The New Yorker’s personal history section (AKA the place in the mag where all those dying parent essays go), go back and read through the end to where Als moves from describing his childhood in Brownsville to calling out the cultural systems and institutions that, sure, seem invested in unpacking systemic racism right now and elevating Black voices right now, but only through the kind of lens used to examine a hot new trend before it’s forgotten about or becomes inconvenient:

Is this all one story? As a writer, I inhabit a world or worlds where the prevalent ethos is presumed to be liberal, but I can’t remember a time when the publishing industry, like other institutions devoted to the arts—museums, Broadway—didn’t come down on the side of fashion and power. At meetings and parties, one spends a great deal of time with people I call the collaborators—functionaries in service to power—who’ll step on your neck to get to the next fashionable Negro who can explain just what is happening and why. When white America asks black artists in particular to speak about race, it’s almost always from the vantage point of its being a sort of condition, or plight, and, if those collaborators can actually listen, what they want to hear is, Who are we in relation to you? ...

Who will tell this story? Many of us and none of us. Because the “exceptional” black artists who are asked to sit around the fire and explain why riots, why death, or why a child has a mother and not a father, have a built-in expiration date: they function as translators of events and rarely as translators of their own stories, their own loneliness in a given place and time. 

Then make sure you stay for the second-to-last paragraph, which should give you an idea of how far up the ladder, even with the most “progressive” places and people involved, all of this goes. 


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