Beyond Race

I was prepared to say nice things about Beyond Race before I happened upon the George Carlin obituary on the magazine's Web site. Now, damn it, I need to be effusive.

Let me explain. If you're anything like me (mid-'30s, balding, kinda sleepy), you were saddened enough when you heard Carlin had passed away. But what really stung was how every obit writer in the country somehow managed to reduce his entire career to those "seven dirty words," as though they were the only ones he ever uttered. What a tragically ironic endnote to a career built on the fearless exploration -- and defense -- of language.

So when I read the opening line to Beyond Race's obituary, it felt like a redemption: "Comedian George Carlin, a devout atheist and lover of foul words, died last night from heart failure at the age of 71." Greatest. Description. Ever. A devout atheist and lover of foul words. It's irreverent, honest and totally without pretense. Something tells me Carlin would have preferred that to all the "champion of free speech" hooey.

That, more than anything else, is what you need to know about Beyond Race, a magazine that defies easy classification. It's not, as the name would have you believe, a magazine about race relations or ethnic identity. Instead, it's best described as a counterculture magazine, mostly concerned with music but also politics, film, religion, comedy and art. It bears a creepy resemblance to Fader, but is more hip-hop than hipster (which, if you live in New York these days -- the newly crowned capital of skinny dudes in tight pants -- is a very welcome thing).

Of course, with such an expansive scope, Beyond Race could easily devolve into an incoherent mess, or at least a pretentious one. But it manages to be eclectic without feeling desultory. In the special 2nd anniversary issue, Beyond Race weaves together cover stories on Ludacris and The Kooks with small profiles of comedian Michael Showalter and urban poet Oveous Maximus, Q&As with Radiohead's Thom Yorke and a prominent veteran of the war in Iraq, not to mention album reviews and profiles of bands you -- or at least I -- have never heard of.

What ties it all together is a pervading sense of authenticity. Maybe it's just the design, which favors rough-hewn, graffiti-style graphics, or the photography, which is lush and vibrant but still unpolished, that lends it that feel. Or maybe it's the choice of subjects, which all seem to exist just outside the mainstream. Whatever the reason, Beyond Race succeeds where so many "edgy" magazines fail: it actually is edgy.

What blunts that edge is an occasionally simplistic, sycophantic tone. While most of Beyond Race is smartly written, too much of it adopts a style more befitting a press release, or maybe a 1950s educational filmstrip. For example, "Michael Showalter has done it all, but he admits there is so much more he wants to do." Bleah. There's a lot of this writing smattered throughout the book -- uncritical, fawning, corny -- that distracts from the otherwise irreverent approach. But Beyond Race is young, and delivers a walloping amount of content per issue, so maybe such wrinkles will be ironed out as it matures and builds a stronger stable of writers.

The other major problem with Beyond Race is that it's almost impossible to find. I saw my first issue nearly a year ago in my favorite magazine store (that tiny one on Park Avenue just north of Union Square, west side of the street. You know the one), but didn't see an issue again till last week, in the Bleecker Street subway station. And it's not like I haven't been looking. If the publishers really want us to get Beyond Race, they need to get it beyond East 17th Street.

Published by:
Beyond Race Magazine, LLC
Frequency: Quarterly
Web site
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