I’ve been a little off the grid this past week.
Of course, I’ve been paying attention to critical stories unfolding in Pittsburgh this week. These are stories I’ve been sharing via social media and would normally blog about. Front and center are the stories about the assault of Jade Martin by employees at Pizza Milano and the intense, swift response from Pittsburgh’s Black community in support of Jade. Second, but on a clear related note, is the racist editorial published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazetted editorial board on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Scroll down for some links you need to read about that racist homage to Trumpian lapdogs.
Rather than analyze, I’m going to follow my recently-operated-upon-gut and share where my thoughts have been going.
My great-grandfather, Gil Remley, worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (and the Sun and Post) for over 50 years, starting in 1906 as a copy boy. He did a little general reporting, but ended up in sports for most of his career.
Gil died in 1960 before I was born. I only know him through stories most of which were about him being a ‘newspaperman’. But through genealogy, I’ve discovered quite a few missing pieces including the fact that Gil had been the business manager for the Homestead Grays for 14 years. He was hired by Cumberland Posey. I don’t know which 14 year period out of the Grays 38 season legacy – likely in the 20’s and 30’s.
But I do know that it wasn’t every white newspaperman who loved baseball and used his resources to support a Negro League team. I don’t know why he didn’t talk about it even though keeping secrets is a family trait. It isn’t about assigning Gil credit for any accomplishments of the Grays, as for him illustrating how to be an ally in whatever language would have made sense in that time period. Maybe not saying anything, even to your family, was the language. If so, how much more sad that we lack those examples of nuance and morality within our individual families.
I don’t want to overplay this. It is not as if the Post-Gazette wasn’t filled with racist content during this time period and he took a big principled stand. I have no idea what happened at that sports desk – did they cover racism in amateur and professional sports? was the coverage culturally competent? It would be a legacy project to explore those questions.
But I do think that there were more lucrative side jobs he could have pursued. So just maybe rather than pick up any side gig, he quietly invested his time and talent to support the Homestead Grays. And the Homestead Grays changed history. It doesn’t make him a hero, but it does suggest a path for me – to listen to and respond when called upon to support people of color and Black people.
Gil worked for publisher, William Block, Sr. I met Mr. Block one time at an event hosted by his daughter, Karen Johnese, who was a supporter of a project I was part of. I approached him and had a lovely conversation about my great-grandfather.
So the reason I am telling you this story about a middle class white man who died in 1961 in the context of recent events? When I read the letter written my members of the Block family in response to editorial, it reminded me of the folks who turned out this week at Pizza Milano to support Jade Martin and to support the Hill District residents who deserve a better neighbor. The Block family letter addressed their father’s professional values and legacy as well as the systemic impact of the editorial itself. In similar fashion, #Justice4Jade supporters are demanding personal accountability by her assailant as well as addressing the systemic impact of the business – they don’t want a business that devalues black lives to have a home in the Hill District.
While the employees and family members of John Block Jr chose to publicly resist his unfettered racist business decision, Pizza Milano’s Aleyna Yilmaz took to Twitter to appeal to Donald Trump to help her family stay in business. Her tweets are now private, but you can find them.
Now John Block Jr knows that he has no daily paper competitor. He’s riding the final wave of print publication unfettered by professional ethics and unhampered by longterm strategies to keep the PG legacy alive. He’s free to simply wring every cent possible out to diversify the next generation’s financial future. He already is benefitting from the Trump Presidency. His ongoing disdain for the readers is clear as is his disregard for his employees.
Pizza is a different story. Clearly, it is a matter of convenience to visit another restaurant or make a pizza at home. So the Yilmaz family took the desperate leap to appeal to the Trump league of mythology, by playing a race card to position themselves as the victims and part of Team Trump.
I wonder if John Block realizes that his editorial is directly tied to Yilmaz feeling entitled to smash a Black woman’s head against the pavement? If he realizes that he is responsible for Yilmaz feeling that Trump & co will take their side because anti-Blackness is the essence of racism? That when we allow comments like ‘shithole countries’ to be part of public discourse, we give a big pass to ‘shithole neighborhoods’ as well? That a pizza shop serving suburban hockey fans gets a degree of leeway with the public when they treat the Black residents in their neighborhood differently?
I wonder if the Yilmaz family actually believes Donald Trump cares about them as anything more than tools for his agenda? Do they realize that Donald Trump wins when their manager/uncle/cousin beats the shit out of a Black woman?
Let me own the fact that I’ve been a longtime customer of this cluster of businesses, ordering from Cafe Milano on Sixth Street because they delivered to my neighborhood of Manchester. Obviously, I will never order from them again.
And neither should you. In fact, as we enter the second year of Trump – we should be much wiser about how we invest in our community businesses before their racist values manifest in violent physical assaults or editorial tantrums or the like. We need to listen to our Black neighbors about their experiences in businesses before there’s a need to organize a protest educating us at the door and asking us to turn away, to take our resources elsewhere. We need to invest our own resources in more than social media shares and bragging about not subscribing to a newspaper. That’s not progress.
We need to do better.
You should read these.
Former Post-Gazette staffers wrote a letter decrying the editorial, a letter which cowardly John Block refuses to publish.
The executive committee Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh also submitted a letter to the editor.
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation condemns the editorial, too
The Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation penned a response as well.
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