In a riveting new excerpt from A Cup of Water Under My Bed, the memoir by former New York Times writer Daisy Hernández, she writes about what it was like for her to be a sole Latina in a sea of white men—old-boys who crack hilarious jokes about super-fund stories and subtly undermine her pitches about Colombian political asylum, while giving her the go-ahead to write hard-hitting pieces about fake tans. You know how this goes.
On a skinny Times editor she has code-named "Mr. Flaco," whose racism could not be more textbook:
Mr. Flaco is curious to hear what I might want to write about a new report showing that boys are being left behind in education. Nervous, I stumble through my pitch about how it's not all boys.
It is black boys and teenagers. "Racism," I begin, "has, you know, shaped the expectations the kids have of themselves and that teachers have of them."
"What's going to be your recommendation?" he asks, a smile dancing at his lips. "Tell teachers to raise their self-esteem?"
I stare at the carpet. He continues. "What's remarkable is that when you look across socioeconomic levels, black boys consistently do badly in school. It doesn't matter if they're living in Westchester or Harlem."
The air around me grows thin, choking.
"By comparison," he says, "Chinese kids do well in school even when they just got here yesterday." He chuckles. "It's like it's genetic."
TEXTBOOK! Hernández, who is Cuban-Colombian, also drops the most sadly accurate knowledge jewel about her former workplace, but it is an observation that extends beyond the New York Times: "Newsrooms are set up like mazes. It is an endless series of desks and television screens, and everywhere you turn is another white man." Dude, even just reading this feels oppressive, especially when she details how one of her crucial Times survival skills was learning how to speak to white men. Hernández joined the paper after working with Gail Collins on "a book on women's history" (presumably this one), and she's writing in the era just after September 11, when Jayson Blair plagiarized A-1 stories and Howell Raines blamed himself for being a white man from the South and giving "a young black man too many chances," as Hernández interprets his statement.
It's been eight years since that day in the theater, and I'm thinking again about a white man confessing to his own people that he cared about the black community, that he thought he could singlehandedly change a hierarchy. I'm thinking about the whiteness of the news organization and how that whiteness reproduced itself with every hire, every promotion, but that is not a scandal.
None of Hernández's revelations are too surprising if you've ever read the Times or anything about it, but it's the brazenness with which the white people in her tale act that you can never get used to. Entitlement: no matter how much it is deployed, it still has the power to shock. Read the rest of the excerpt here: it's long, jarring, and beautifully written.
Image via Erika Cross/Shutterstock.