In April 1988 I had one of the great jobs in the world.
I was the Beverage Alcohol Manager of Rolling Stone Magazine. It meant that I sold advertising to the spirit, beer, and wine companies. That is right, I was getting paid to drink and listen to Rock and Roll Music. A very sweet gig. Especially considering I was on an expense account and the magazine was on a tear. We had nearly doubled the magazine’s revenue in the last few years and were recognized as one of the “hottest” properties in the country.
What made this job even better was that I worked with some of the best and smartest people with whom I have ever worked. They saw their jobs beyond that of just selling advertising. They believed, as did The Blues Brothers, they were on a mission from God to make the advertising world embrace Rolling Stone.
They threw epic parties. I met everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to Yoko Ono to Jacqueline Onassis to Jackson Brown. And without getting too many details it was the roaring eighties and I could get weed delivered via interoffice mail.
But what made it special and extraordinary for me is that I loved what the magazine represented. Most people thought it was about Rock and Roll. But from the beginning Jann Wenner, the founder, had said that it would be about “Rock and Roll and all the things that rock was about” which pretty much covered everything. But to Jann that meant that it was about social justice and politics and to that end he hired some of the most brilliant journalist of the time to cover these subjects. Folks like Hunter Thompson, PJ O’Rourke, and William Greider to name just a few.
We took the popular culture and made it relevant. And important.
But that April I was especially proud because Rolling Stone’s cover story was not about Guns N Roses, Van Halen, or U2. It was of Martin Luther King Jr. The theme of the issue was “Portrait of a Generation” where the editors had commissioned a survey to find out the likes and dislikes of the generation just then coming of age. MLK had made the cover because he was far and away the most admired person of our generation.
I completely agreed with that designation. Some of my earliest memories of television were of George Wallace trying to deny African American students entrance to the University of Alabama and of black protesters being attacked by police with fire hoses and dogs. His message of equality. At the time, and still, I could not understand how someone could hate another based on the color of their skin (or faith…my father had already begun to teach me about the shoah) His words “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” spoke to me directly.
I was proud of the magazine that day. It reminded us, 20 years after his assassination, the power of his legacy and our obligation to continue to fight for equality and justice for all as the bedrock American value.
I recalled all of this the other day when a friend of mine told me about an incident that happened to her niece who is of Asian heritage. She was out for a walk, getting some social distance respecting- self isolating exercise while walking her dog in her reasonably affluent neighborhood in Southern California when a neighbor yelled “Go back to china you fuck.” This broke my heart. I have been the subject of racial epithets a good part of my life and know how small and marginalized it makes you feel. Moreover, there is no good response to this type of racism. You can fight them physically which I did often when I was younger but these days would likely get you arrested. You could hurl insults back to them such as “Fuck you , you fuckity fuck fuck.” But then you are just giving them what they want which is a response so even it lacks full satisfaction.
But what saddens me the most is that in the current Trumpian climate in America that this type of verbal vomit is not unexpected or even reviled by many. It made me wonder what happened to this generation where Martin Luther King was our hero to now where overt and subtle racism fills our lives on a nearly daily basis.
The examples are easy to find.
I am pretty sure we all have friends who believe that white privilege does not exist and in fact believe that white males are actively discriminated against. They often use anecdotal evidence such as the number of African American Dads in commercials as opposed to white males to make their points. The reason they don’t use hard facts is because they don’t exist. It is clearly easier being white in this country than being of color. Every statistic point to it. Employment, education, maternal mortality rate. Even death rate for the Covid 19 virus. So why do so many deny white privilege? Because it is easier to say than I don’t believe in racial equality. That I am embracing racism.
I know people who believe, with reverence, that Christians are the most discriminated religion in the world. They point to things such as how in certain middle eastern and African countries Christian suffer mightily because of their faith. They say in the US that evangelical Christians are discriminated against in academia, employment, and their ability to practice their religion they want to (eg anti vax). I have seen no scientific study to bolster these facts and most of the time their argument boils down to my religion is more important than yours and because of that you need to give up your rights. This is opposed, to all religious views will be tolerated so their can be no religious test to things like gay discrimination or reproductive rights to name just a few.
Being a Christian in the US is far easier than being Muslim. Being a Christian in the US is far easier than being Jewish. The reason for certain sectors to call for religious discrimination is no more than excuse to spew vile at others. I can hate Muslims because they hate my religion. I have no doubt than MLK jr would be appalled.
Bill Maher, the libertarian talk show host and comic, spent a few minutes on why it was perfectly okay to call Covid 19 the Chinese virus during one of his broadcasts. He sited among other things the Zica virus and the Spanish Flu as examples of viruses that were named for places and therefore it was legitimate to give a place designation to the virus. What he failed in mentioning is that Zica is a named for the Zica forest in Brazil where it was first found and we don’t call it the Brazil virus. The Spanish Flu was not named for where the outbreak first took place but for the only country not hiding the illness and accurately reporting on the disease. By both of those naming nomenclatures Covid 19 should either be called the Wuhan Virus or the USA virus. Not the Chinese virus.
The only reason I can think of calling it the Chinese Virus is racism or perhaps xenophobia. And Dr.King asked to judge people by the content of their heart…
What happened to us that in the time of national crisis, when we are fighting an enemy that is an equal opportunity infector (although minorities suffer more and die at a higher rate due to income and health care inequities) that we feel that it is okay to throw out racial epithets? Shouldn’t this be a time where we come together as a nation and say “Fuck you Fuckity Fuck Disease” we are going to kick your ass through unity and brotherhood?
Don’t we as a generation want to embrace more of Martin Luther King Jr equality for all and less of Donald Trump’s model of hatred and racial division?
I know that there are many people out there who are frightened of the disease, frightened of change, frightened of losing your place in the world as you see it. But I beg you, that instead embracing racism and hate because they make you feel less frightened, less alone and allows you to give vent to your anger, to reject it and embrace the fact that we can only succeed by coming together.
Lets use Covid 19 to come together as a country let alone a world. Lets keep Dr, Kings message and hope alive. Let that be the portrait of our generation.