James King, Newbie Voice Writer: Casual Racist BS Will Be Called BS By (Slightly) Older Voice Writer


“In the old days, reporters, in the pages of the Voice, went after one another. Readers enjoyed taking sides in these civil wars, and we ourselves sometimes discovered what we should have known before we so confidently wrote.”

So wrote Nat Hentoff in “Why I Oppose the Downtown Mosque: How I questioned an imam’s motives and broke Tom Robbins’s heart” in September of 2010, when Hentoff went after his colleague, friend and onetime union shop steward.

Indeed, there is a long, proud, half-century old tradition here at the Voice of writers duking it out with words within our own paper. “I do not want to get in the way of what looks like it has the making of a really good feud (the old Voice excelled at these; usually we had them with each other)” Robbins himself commented on another 2010 Voice article, where Editor in Chief Tony Ortega got into the ring with Louis Black of the Austin Chronicle. (After Robbins dropped in, he ended his message, “gentlemen, please go back to ripping each other up.”)

This writer has not had occasion to spar with any of my colleagues in my three years at the Voice. But new Voice staff writer James King has come to town, bringing with him a dose of casual racism in some of his posts that I think needs to be called boool sheeeyt for the bool sheeeyt it is. I have never been one refrain from speaking my mind when it comes to issues of race – be it in the FDNY, City Hall, segregated public schools, or in the deranged zeitgeist of the nation. The Voice has encouraged me in this, so it would be hypocritical of me not to talk about racial concerns happening a cubicle over from me and on the pages of my home publication.

Time to lace up and show Mr. King how we roll here in the New York in general and at the Voice specifically.

Last week, a couple days onto his new job, my new colleague King wrote a piece called “Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes: Scamming Old People Because They’re Old Is A Hate Crime” under the category “Seriously?”

In essence, King was complaining that the DA “charged a 36-year-old Brooklyn man with a hate crime for allegedly ripping off an 81-year-old geezer to the tune of $350,000 in a mortgage scam that started when the elderly victim responded to an ad for debt assistance.”

Whether I agreed with his stand or not, there is a substantive argument to King’s claim that a crime against an old person is not a “hate crime” in the same sense as, say, a gay bashing or a lynching. Nothing controversial here.

What I took offense to was King’s usage of a picture of a man being lynched, taken from wikipedia, with the caption, “Attention, Charles Hynes: This is a hate crime.” It was a trite, and offensive, use of lynching imagery, all the more so because it was also used as a thumbnail for click bait.

Let me repeat: he used the image of a lynching, of the moment a man was being murdered, as a thumbnail.

One shouldn’t use a picture of a black man swinging from a tree in such a cavalier manner, methinks. Several readers contacted me about this, and I found it to be an act of passive, accepted racism, but a sad piece of racism all the same.

Now, I think it can be argued that King had a point. Indeed, he seems to be saying that crimes against the elderly should not be elevated to the level of lynching, and he’s giving some weight to lynching in this way.

It can also be read as satire. I have no problem with satire. I mean, I like to write about crazy white people!

But when I do so, I like it when the butt of the joke is always the villain, if you will, and not the victim. In “White America Has Lost Its Mind,” Drew Friedman beautifully depicted a bunch of right wing blowhards in straight jackets. All were public figures. Inflammatory title or not, the Voice was directing our focus at people like Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin. All were fair game. They appeared cartoonish on purpose because they were cartoonish.

The image being used to make King’s point about what he thinks is Hynes’s silly prosecution – the punch line of his joke, if you will – is a man being lynched. That’s the cartoon. The man being lynched is not a celebrity. He is not fair game. He has not given his consent, obviously, and the use of the image of his death is not about his death, or to educate people on the horrors of lynching, but just to be outlandish in a toss away fashion.

The lynched man is one of countless anonymous black men – like ancestors of mine — who were murdered during a reign of terror in our nation’s history.

And yet, his murder is being reduced to “content” as a thumbnail for shock value.

Seeing this image reduced to clip art fodder made me uncomfortable. Others contacted me to say the same.

I have made the same mistake of using the wrong photo on a story which undermined my point, and wanted to hope perhaps this had happened with my new colleague. But then, a few days later, he wrote this gem this: “Baby In Diaper Found Wandering Streets Of Brooklyn at 2 A.M. No, She Wasn’t Selling Weed.”

Which is, of course, what poor black children do, right?

In this piece, King riffs off a sad, true story of child abandonment and mashes it up with a Dave Chappelle routine. As if he’s a brotha himself, he peppers his prose with down phrases like “Ya know,” “baby slangin’ dope,” and of course, that favorite word of new to town hipsters, “ghetto.” (Actually, Mr. King, Chappelle doesn’t even say he’s in the “ghetto” in the clip you embedded.) The point of the story, I guess, is that people in the “ghetto” are bad parents by implication. I’m not sure why King thought this was a useful story to share with Voice readers in the way he did; there is little he added in his aggregation but wedding a WABC story to a Dave Chappelle routine, as if he (as a blogger) were a black comic himself with the chops to pull off “ghetto” humor.

(And by the way, I found a three-year-old on the street in my neighborhood on a sub-freezing day in January and called 9-1-1. Between the child’s hysterical sobs, the wailing mother who finally arrived, and the police officers who showed up to mediate, it was a far less funny episode in real life than a Dave Chappelle routine, fyi.)

And then today, there was “Long Island Baby Orphaned After Dad Stabs Baby Mama, Shoots Self.”

Baby Mama? Why not just call her “Hoochie Mama,” Mr. King? ‘Cause the murdered woman deserves no respect in death, right? Because she allegedly wasn’t married, had a child in sin, and got herself killed? Is that how it is?

And I won’t even bother with “Does My Ass Look Illegal In These Pants.”

Of course, I have no say whatsoever about what King or any of my colleagues write. I’m just a staff writer, I’m not an editor. And we are the Village Voice afterall, a bunch of misfit writers at (the original) alt-weekly where we get to say shit we couldn’t say at most other publications.

So naturally sometimes we bump up against each other. That’s to be expected.

But I am an (in fact, I am sadly the) African American staff writer at the Voice, and I am proud of the publication’s 56 history of writing boldly and with passion. I take note when my gut tells me something should be written about, especially when readers confirm similar stirrings to me.

And so, it’s my duty to use my voice to call bullshit wherever I see or smell it, even if it’s close to home, as I did here and here and here and here.

Alright, the bell just sounded and I need a water break. Phew.

Lace up your gloves and I’ll see you next round in the ring, Mr. King.