The New York Observer recently put out an article titled “The 100 Most Influential New Yorkers of the Past 25 Years” and a whopping six black people made the list. Actually, it’s six names and five spots, since Jay-Z and Beyoncé share a slot. Oh and four of those six black people are in the cover image for the piece. Apparently, brown sells.
The other African-Americans who made the cut are Rev. Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, Derek Jeter and non-New Yorker Cory Booker. The New York Observer says of the piece “What follows is our list of dealmakers, dreamers and visionaries…Their ideas have defined the last 25 years, and quite likely those to come.”
That’s a lofty goal and of course you’re bound to not include a number of important people in a finite list of New York notables, but the lack of black folks on this list is striking.
The list is broken up into sections: Arts, Business, City Life, Entertainment, Fashion, Media, Politics, Real Estate, Society, Spirit of the City, Sports and Tech/VC. Given those categories, the black folks who are included are very deserving of their spots. Well, except for Newark Mayor Cory Booker. I love Cory just as much as the next gal. I’m one of his million-plus followers on Twitter (He follows me back though!) and I swoon like everyone else when I read about his latest comic-book-type acts of heroism, but yet and still, he is not a New Yorker.
The only black man given a slot in the Politics section of this list is not even a New York resident and has never had an elected position in New York. David Dinkins, who was the first and so far only black mayor of New York City doesn’t make the cut; neither does Congressman Charlie Rangel who has been in his seat since 1971. This man chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee for years and yet, the only black “New Yorker” for this list is a non-New Yorker. Basil Paterson’s son David Paterson (first and so far only black governor of New York) doesn’t make the list either.
You know who does make the list though? Carrie Bradshaw. Yep, a fictional character from the popular HBO series Sex and the City makes the cut. I’m not mad at Carrie making the list. Though fictional, she was/is undoubtedly a huge influence on the perception of what it means to be a single woman in New York. I own that pink velvet DVD box set and as a wide-eyed college student in the Midwest when the show was on the air, I looked to her as an example of what it might really be like to live in the big city. (Side Note: I discovered that your typical freelance writer does not in fact own a closet full of thousand-dollar shoes.)
But if the editors at the New York Observer are open enough to consider a fictional character’s impact, they should also include the “visions” and ideas of other non-celebrities. They could practically double the number of black people on this list by including the Central Park Five. In 1989, back when these five teenagers were falsely accused of the brutal rape of a Central Park jogger, their alleged acts of mischief became the accepted definition of young, black male behavior. Animals. Wolves. They carried on their acts of violence in “packs.”
The young men insisted that the confessions they gave were coerced by NYPD detectives. The “idea” they gave to the public was that the NYPD was corrupt–a novel idea indeed. Their convictions were eventually vacated when the actual Central Park rapist admitted to his crime 13 years after the fact.
So yes, there have been more than six influential black New Yorkers in the past 25 years and the New York Observer list is not at all reflective of the contributions of New York City’s diverse black community. Even without consciously thinking about making the list diverse, one would think more black people would end up on the list just because they should be there. The only black sports figure is Derek Jeter? Okay.
If you were to make your own list of notable New Yorkers of the past 25 years, who would be on your list?
Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope.