A selection of letters and emails in response to our New York 40 cover story
Tue Sep 30 2008
I was shocked and offended when I received “The New York 40” in my mailbox today and noticed the wall of white faces that make up your list. What the goddamn hell? Including two or three men of color in the “ruling class” is a pretty sad statement on where you think New York has been and where you’d like to see it go. And no, Jay-Z, Junot Díaz and Derek Jeter—though they’re cool—aren’t sufficient representatives of the significance of minority populations. Reading all the nostalgic complaints about how NY has been sold to the rich and is pushing out the people that make NY great, I couldn’t help but think your whitewashed issue was a celebration of this fact more than a response to it.
—Josh Takano Chambers-Letson, via e-mail
The new cover article of TONY, “The New York 40” is very disappointing, embarrassing and sad. Out of 40 “important” New Yorkers that are listed, two are is African-American, about one Latin American, and all others are white men and a few white women. Is this the truth about the great New York City melting pot? Are there no important New Yorkers of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, African, Russian, Indian, South American or Australian origins? It is sad to paint the picture that New York is “ruled” by only Caucasian men and a few Caucasian women.
—Oliver Kienzi, via e-mail
Editor’s response: Of course, we thought something similar as we complied the list: “Should we have more ethnicities?” To see why we didn’t—in our essay about race and the Top 40—head to “Where are all the people of color?”
—Michael Freidson, editor
How many letters have you received asking why Jon Stewart was not included among “The New York 40”? He’s only the most important newscaster in America.
—Richard Ellis, midtown
They’re just like us
Your “The New York 40” piece was wonderful and inspiring. As an actor (the off-off-off-off-off Broadway kind Philip Seymour Hoffman mentioned he once was—there’s hope!) as well as a body-and-soul New Yorker, it was beautiful to see all these famous people get so real about New York and have so many of them advocate the arts, affordability, etc.—concepts that I promote and live by every day. It also showed that all New Yorkers, famous and not, really do share a common bond and love for everything about this city. It just adds fuel to the fire that New York is and always will be the greatest place in the universe, a mecca for the arts and a mecca for everything. Thank you, New York 40, thank you, TONY, and thank you, NYC!
—Lee Solomon, Forest Hills, Queens
In the course of a lengthy interview “The New York 40,” apparently destabilized by the cognitive dissonance of finding myself on a list with Richard Serra and Tina Fey, I made a stupid remark for which I want to apologize. Michael Feingold is a knowledgeable and honorable critic. The fact that he hasn’t liked anything I’ve written in, like, nearly twenty years is proof only that even knowledgeable and honorable critics can make mistakes. So can playwrights. I regret my klutzy dig at him.
—Tony Kushner, via e-mail
Editor Michael Freidson's response as to why there were so few people of color mentioned in the TONY 40 [Reply all, TONY 679] was New York is "a city whose cultural elite have been mainly white." This is an overly easy excuse that deserves to be examined more closely. What is revealed in your letter is the closed cultural world of Time Out. It's a list of "who we know" not a list of "what we can discover." Do you interview top curators, politicians, nonprofit leaders to find the surprise folks? Nope. You ask only your staff and then process only with your editors, without any self-reflection about who your staff is, what their taste is, and how well they represent New York as a whole. If Time Out wants to be taken seriously as culture reporters and not just a smug magazine of listings, then they need to take their jobs and their place in the city more seriously. Please do better next time; your magazine deserves it and New York deserves it.
—Esther R., via e-mail
In response to the readers bemoaning the lack of diversity in The New York 40: may I direct your attention to the presence of Amy Sedaris, whose father is Greek, as is Tina Fey's mother. Liev Schreiber's grandparents came from Eastern Europe. Many others are also second- or third-generation Americans. Christopher Wheeldon and Nellie McKay are British. Bloomberg is Jewish, along with several others. Also included is our first female City Council Speaker who is also a lesbian, something unthinkable in many places, as well as several prominent gay men. beyond this, most were not born in NYC but came from all over the country to follow their dreams and make an impact here, showing just how exciting and vital New York continues to be. Assuming all white faces are the same is just as bad as assuming all black faces are the same. Diversity is about more than skin color.
- Jeff Spencer, via e-mail
So let's get right to the point: How do you write a cover story of 40 influential New Yorkers and only come up with one person of color on that list? Oh, did I forget about Jeter? Let's make that one and a half. What city are you representing? Certainly not the New York I and most of your NY 40 talk about, the city of vibrant multi-cultural diversity. How about Butch Morris, Ellen Stewart, Salman Rushdie, Rosie Perez, Al Sharpton, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Bill T. Jones, Yoko Ono, Q-Tip, Sarah Jones, and that's just off the top of my head! That your writers and editors could have a production meeting without anyone saying "hey, everyone on this list is white, we should come up with some other names." is just beyond comprehension. It's embarrassing enough that it would even have to come to that point. Shame on you TONY, shame on all your writers and especially your editor for putting out a cover that reeks of narrow-mindedness, racism and ignorance.
- Michelle H., Brooklyn