New Yorker archive editor Erin Overbey threw some public bombs at her own employer Tuesday, calling the magazine out for an “embarrassing” lack of diversity in a long Twitter thread.
“Let’s talk about racism!” Overbey said. “Most white people at prestigious magazines don’t ever want to talk about race or diversity at all. Why? It’s primarily because they’ve been allowed to exist in a world where their mastheads resemble member registries at Southern country clubs circa 1950. White people are rarely actively racist at these publications.
“They simply never bother to challenge the status quo—typically out of concern that they will be inconvenienced or made to feel uncomfortable. And so the status quo often remains entrenched for literally decades,” Overbey said, before delving into statistics she selected from the New Yorker’s 96-year history.
She said that in the last 15 years, as David Remnick has overseen the publication, less than 0.01% of print feature and critics pieces were edited by a Black editor. In its entire history, she said, the magazine has published only four book reviews by African American women and in the last 30 years, only 3.6% of the book reviews in the magazine were from Black critics or writers. She said that from 1990 to 2000, only seven book reviews came from Latino writers and 12 came from Asian American writers, adding that less than 1% of the book reviews have been from Indian Americans and 28% of all print book reviews have been by women.
Bit by bit, she went after profiles, reporter-at-large pieces, movie reviews, art reviews, the Onward & Upward with the Arts section, musical event reviews, pop music reviews and more — pointing out a lack of writing and editing diversity in all of them. (Note that some columns — like those focusing on critical reviews of classical music or art — have always been produced by a dedicated columnist, not a rotating assortment of writers.)
“And there were actually more critical reviews (overall) published by women in the magazine in the 1980s than there are now. In 1987, 54% of @NewYorker’s reviews (cinema, books,etc) were written by women; in the last 10 years, an average of 23% have been written by women,” she added, before noting that the digital website for the magazine has published “a comparatively impressive array of diverse bylines, easily eclipsing the print mag in terms of representation and inclusivity” in the past five years.
Overbey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how she made these calculations, whether writers at the New Yorker have self-identified their race over the last decades or, if not, how she determined their races. In the thread, she said the information is “public.”
In a statement to TheWrap, a spokesperson for the Condé Nast-owned magazine wrote: “We’ve worked hard for years to increase the number of underrepresented voices at The New Yorker, and we’ve made significant progress — among our writers, in senior editorial positions, and across the entire enterprise. Nearly 40% of new hires at Condé Nast are from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. While we don’t believe these tweets present a full or fair view of The New Yorker and its ongoing efforts, there is always more work to do, and we look forward to doing it.”