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In March 2006, about a month after I started working at City Paper, Staff Writer Huan Hsu wrote a characteristically awesome piece about the lily-whiteness of this newspaper’s staff.
It’s not all that surprising that the Washingtonian is a really white magazine. It would seem a much bigger problem for the City Paper, which purports to write about a predominately black city, yet is produced by a bunch of young white folks who live in Northwest D.C. Our urban cred is just as contrived as the Washingtonian’s class.
Race-wise, we haven’t moved the peanut since. Our full-time editorial staff then: 22, all but two of whom were white. Our full-time edit staff now: 10, all of whom are white.
So there’s nothing outdated there, even if some of Hsu’s complaints seem rather quaint after three years of white-knuckling through the recession. Consider this description of the masthead:
Editor in chief: white guy (and a gentrifier, too). Arts editor: white guy. Senior editor: white guy. Senior writer: white guy. Copy editor: white woman.
Can you believe we used to have a copy editor? (And can you believe that the word predominantly is nevertheless misspelled in the preceding quote?) But more to the point, the editor is a gentrifier! This is a term I heard bandied about quite a bit in the pre-Creative Loafing days of this paper. We wrote about gentrification’s perils (there was even a term, “g-feature,” for such a thing), and within these walls, at least, “gentrifier” was acceptable shorthand. “In my almost two years writing for the paper, only one editor, a gentrifying white woman who once complained that her neighborhood grocery store didn’t carry risotto, approached me with a story idea about Chinese people,” Hsu writes, emphasis mine.
We don’t have as much time for self-flagellation these days, and I wonder if any of our readers even miss this internal debate. Wednesday’s a lousy day to catch edit staffers in the office, since we finish the issue the night before, but I did manage to find a few folks at their desks. Staff Writer Mike DeBonis was here in those days (and he sure edited his share of g-features). DeBonis lives on the 1400 block of W street. “There’s no way I’m not a gentrifier,” he says, noting that his building is a co-op with a “handful” of fellow gentrifiers (or white people, if you prefer). “I got one of the last units there,” he says. “There were opportunities for other people in the neighborhood; if they wanted that place they could have had it.”
Darrow Montgomery, our staff photographer, has lived in Mount Pleasant for 25 years and says, “I’m not a gentrifier. I was born here.” (I grew up admiring Montgomery’s photos and always for some reason thought he was black. I don’t know why!)
Me, I’m white and live 4.3 miles from my boyhood home in Arlington’s Forest Glen neighborhood and 2.7 miles from the north Old Town neighborhood my parents helped gentrify when I was in college. Assistant Managing Editor Erika Niedowski, also white, lives in a predominantly white neighborhood of professionals next to a gentrifying and also predominantly white (but working-class) neighborhood in Baltimore, where she says, “I don’t think I’ve done my part for gentrification.”
Erik Wemple, our editor, has lived in the Dupont/Logan Circle area since 1991 and owns three properties there. “I think the record shows I am,” he says when I ask if he considers himself a gentrifier. “You could also say I invested in a neighborhood before it was fashionable.” I ask if gentrification was a hot-button issue in the City Paper offices in the mid-2000s, ’cause it doesn’t really seem like it is now. “I think it may have just been a hot-button issue for Huan Hsu,” he says.
I’ve e-mailed Hsu and will update when he gets in touch.