Has time come for gay blacks?
That was the headline on a wonderful opinion column in yesterday's RedEye, in which the author, Lenox Magee, a gay black man, explored the effect Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage has had on black Americans. The article has -- at the time of this writing -- received 300 "shares" and many retweets/mentions, as Magee's personal tale combined with his passionate take on the NAACP and the worlds of celebrity, music, and politics stirred RedEye's readership.
It was a helluva piece, one that I first saw in the morning as I browsed the paper. I started covering sports for RedEye in March; since then I make sure to grab the paper every day to see what's new, what I like, what I don't like, and what my fellow sportswriters are doing.
I also always read the cover story, including yesterday's, as writer Leonor Vivanco documented the lives of Chicago couples who, despite being engaged, are taking their sweet time before getting married. The cover headline read What's the rush? and was accompanied by an illustration of one hand putting a ring on another hand. I finished the story, finished Magee's story, finished flipping through the issue, and placed it back in a RedEye box.
...but then in the afternoon on my way home, I passed a RedEye stand that still had a few papers in it and I noticed something about the cover I had not noticed before: Holy crap! I thought. That is a black hand putting a ring on a white hand for a story that has nothing to do with interracial marriage!
As usual, I'd been checking on twitter all day, but there was no news of any sort of reader response -- neither a backlash nor a kudos -- for a cover that may have been viewed even a few years ago as "daring."
When I got home, I started seeking answers. I read all of the tweets to @redeyechicago to see if anyone had commented; I did the same on facebook, and also googled phrases like "redeye what's the rush interracial marriage cover." I found nothing.
This was amazing to me, and quite thrilling. Here was one of the city's most popular publications with a jungle fever cover for a non- jungle fever story, and no one seemed to notice. For me, it was a natural cover choice: a high number of my friends are dating (or have married) outside of their skin color, so I'm not surprised that the race angle didn't immediately register in my brain.
And in this era in which our president is a man born of mixed parental lineage, maybe that's the same for other readers: that nobody noticed, and the ones who noticed didn't care. Of course, it's possible some readers felt uneasy or even offended, but if they did they didn't express it online, which is odd, because we live in a time when every little foible -- including controversial magazine covers -- becomes internet fodder.
Let's hop back to Magee's story, where an answer rings out. Magee writes:
As with any gay black man, I'm carrying enough emotional scars inflicted by the black community that I want to be sure everyone's intentions are in the right place, but in the end maybe intentions don't matter if society as a whole begins to shift.
I was not in the editorial meeting in which the RedEye staff settled on this cover image, so I cannot speak to their intentions. Perhaps they purposefully used their cover to express interracial solidarity, or perhaps, like myself and many others, their perspective has shifted to where an interracial couple seems as normal as two people with the same skin.
All I know is that while Lenox Magee wonders about when the tide will turn for blacks on gays, it seems to have turned -- at least in Chicago among RedEye readers -- for interracial couples. Lenox, take a look again at the cover. That is what progress looks like.