"Being White in Philly": The fallout continues
commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver Velez
It's an embarrassing articlesort of summed up for me what I suspected.
Take a look at Philadelphia Magazine's masthead. Notice anything missing?
I haven't seen a copy of this glossy, suburban "city magazine" which primarily targets the upscale (mostly white) suburbs around Philadelphia in quite a few years. My parents, when they were living (and they lived in those suburbs) didn't subscribe - but some of their neighbors in their all-white (except for them) Montgomery County complex did. Philadelphia is not alone in having a so-called city-zine. Most big cities do. They are ubiquitous these days.
What wound up being a surprise, was that this piece of dunderheaded so-called journalism set off a major internet buzz that went beyond Philadelphia and its suburban environs, and not only sparked a conversation about how to talk about race, and who should be talking about it, when is "race" really about social class and not just race, and highlighted what I call the "chocolate city with vanilla suburbs syndrome" which is not unique to Philadelphia.
What became even more interesting was that some of the white writers on the mags masthead wrote their own critiques of the piece, ranging from very critical to outright calling the piece racist.
I figured the outrage would die down fairly quickly, moving on to the next local issue but I was wrong.
I talk on the phone every Sunday with my 70+ cousin in Philly, who lives in the Germantown/Mount Airy section of Philly, near the city line. She has lived in the same house, which was owned by my aunt and uncle, since I was about 7 years old, and the neighborhood, once mostly white, then black middle class, in recent years is very integrated, with a mix of black, latino, asian and white families.
So day before yesterday we were on the phone for our Sunday chat.
She watches ABC news political talk every Sunday (it is usually on as we speak), and I asked her had she read the article in question. She said "no", and just as she was asking what it was about she said "Oh- they are talking about it right now on the tv".
She held the phone closer to the television and I listened to the show - the editor of Philadelphia Magazine, Tom McGrath, was the first guest, and he was talking fast and defending his choice to run the piece. He was followed on the show by a few folks discussing it. I searched for video of the program but it wasn't posted till yesterday.
Inside Story.(it's not embedding well)
Meanwhile, I decided to take a look at other reactions. First up were the writers from the magazine that posted it, starting with:
Why I Hope You Won’t Read “Being White in Philly”. The story is racist, by Philadelphia Magazine writer, Steve Volk.
His opening salvo:
Exactly what constitutes racism is a matter of debate. But my own sense is that racism takes many forms and one is a preoccupation with race—seeing skin color before the person, or wrongly assuming a person’s race to be a primary cause of their behavior. I believe the story “Being White in Philly,” in the March issue of Philadelphia Magazine, is guilty of these forms of racism. And this isn’t an assessment I make with any pleasure.James Fagone, another white writer for said publication takes a different approach:
The story’s writer, Bob Huber, is a friend and colleague whose work I’ve long respected. His lament, in this piece, is that whites can’t talk about race for fear of being labeled “racist.” And the story’s stated aim is to print the things white people think but are uncomfortable saying. Problems crop up throughout: No African-Americans are interviewed in the piece, nor are any Asians or Latinos; and the narrative takes place in a small swath of land, along the border of Fairmount, a largely white section of the city, and North Philadelphia, which is predominantly African-American. This gives a story that purports to be broad and authoritative a narrow cast. But I’m going to start by focusing on one early exchange, between Bob and a white Russian lady, who cuts loose. “Blacks use skin color as an excuse,” she says. “Discrimination is an excuse, instead of moving forward. … It’s a shame—you pay taxes, they’re not doing anything except sitting on porches smoking pot … Why do you support them when they won’t work, just making babies and smoking pot?”
There isn’t much done to contextualize this quote. And what’s there seems to endorse the Russian lady’s view. “If you’re not an American, the absence of a historical filter results in a raw view focused strictly on the here and now,” Huber writes, which I interpret as suggesting the foreigner has a clearer-eyed view of the moment.
He opens "The March issue of Philadelphia magazine is unfortunate. I saw the issue late last week. I still have sort of a hard time believing it’s real."
Though he says he felt the piece was "well-intentioned" and that he is a friend of the writer, Bob Huber, he makes this point:
The thrust of the piece seems to be that white people are afraid to talk about race because black people have made them feel uncomfortable talking about race. Therefore we can’t solve problems in the city, because a conversation is impossible. The implication is that this is black people’s fault. Beyond the way this argument turns the reality of racism and segregation on its head, it just baffles me on a practical level: I don’t get why you’d devote 6,000 words or whatever (the story is really long) to explaining why it’s difficult to have a conversation when you could just go and have the conversation..
Hmm. Good point.
The editor, McGrath, has written his own explanation of why he authorized this but I'll let you go to the link and read it if you want to take the time. But here are two of the responses to his piece (most have been very negative)
disqus_m2f9xSmrCJ • 6 days ago
Philly Magazine is "a magazine with exactly zero people of color on its full-time editorial staff." Why are you OK with this?
Mike11052 • 6 days agoDaniel Denvir, who writes for the Philadelphia City Paper, and describes himself:
This is such bullshit. Black people- poor, middle-class or rich- live EVERY SINGLE DAY dodging racism.. in school, in their cars, at work, shopping, walking down the friggin street. Can a white person even try to understand that? Who cares what a white person thinks about what it's like to be black. How patronisingly naive and insulting. Your magazine patronises everyone who is not like you. And hire a black journo for God's sake. Get off your ass and go out and find one! Have you ever even listed a job classified with the Black Journalists association. There is no excuse, other than inbred, subconscious racism, that PHILADELPHIA magazine does not have a black editorial staffer. A disgrace! Did you bother even to try seek out a black journo somewhere to read your insipid bullshit before you published it? Stop lying to yourself. The article was complete meaningless tripe. I'm white if that matters at all.
I write about politics in the U.S. in general and Philadelphia in particular, media, education, race, class, inequality, law and criminal justice, urban/metropolitan issues, immigration and other topics.wrote:
Philly Mag cover: Whites must criticize blacks more
No, it is not an Onion-esque parody of Philadelphia's most white-bread journalistic institution, a magazine that seemingly hired Gene Marks just because he wrote the jaw-droppingly offensive article “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” for Forbes.Field Negro, one of my favorite bloggers who is a Philly homeboy weighed in, as did Michael Coard, criminal defense attorney, and community activist
But before I continue, I must first disable the story's booby trap, a defense built into its very DNA: the idea that "in so many quarters, simply discussing race is seen as racist." Huber is not a brave man, and his premise is totally false. People will only think you "simply discussing race" is racist if you, like Huber, treat black people like inscrutable extraterrestrials whose moral shortcomings might be responsible for their own poverty...
Indeed, I'm a white guy who writes about race and frequently talk to black Philadelphians--and often, gasp, about race. Black sources have never protested frank questions about race for articles I write about poverty and educational inequity, police brutality and mass incarceration, or neighborhood segregation and (yes, largely black) gun violence. Huber's idea that white people are uniquely aggrieved because they are muzzled in discussions of race (why are they allowed to say the n-word and not me) is not a new one. It's more that Huber wants to have a particular sort of conversation about race. Namely, he "yearn[s] for....the freedom to speak to my African-American neighbors about...how the inner city needs to get its act together." Like, you know, an arguably racist conversation about race.
Yes, that's certainly not the sort of conversation about race most blacks or sensible whites (not to mention unmentioned Asians or Latinos) want to have.
Philly Mag’s “Being White in Philly” Is Really Being Wrong in Philly I grew up four blocks from 19th and Diamond, and I’m not dangerous.
The story has a fatal flaw, and it’s what I call the “Frankenstein Flaw.” It’s when you lambaste the innocent so-called monster but ignore the actual malicious creator. Although the townspeople of Geneva about 200 years ago condemned the no-name creature just as the American people continue to do today, those Swiss mostly ignored, and Americans still mostly ignore, the creator: Dr. Victor Frankenstein.The Philadelphia Tribune wrote an editorial "Race-baiting at Philly Magazine", and the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) has issued a statement.
Well, goddamn it, slavery, sharecropping, convict leasing, Jim Crow, and de facto discrimination are this country’s Dr. Frankenstein. And the violent black criminals and the lazy, shiftless young black men that Huber seems fixated upon are the creations. If you disagree, then there’s only one other explanation: Black folks are genetically predisposed to be violent, to be criminal, and to be lazy and shiftless. It’s either nature or (forcibly imposed) nurture.
There’s a right answer and a white answer. Take your pick.
All Hip Hop: Being Black While Reading ‘Being White In Philly’
Next City's Lori Tharps, who lives in Mt. Airy wrote “Being White in Philly,” A Story of Fear"
I heard about it early on Sunday morning. I had tweets, email messages and the academic equivalent of “Oh, no they didn’ts” blowing up my phone. The Philadelphia Magazine cover story, "Being White In Philly," was making the rounds of the academic community that I, a black Philadelphian and assistant professor of journalism at Temple University, inhabit. After reading the story for myself — I actually ran out to buy a copy of the magazine to get the full effect — I understood immediately why my world was outraged.Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia summed it all up in his remarks:
“It makes some pretty disgusting and disdainful comments about African-Americans and women in particular. I’ll have some more to say about that in the upcoming weeks — but maybe that person might want to come to this event and see some positive folks doing some positive things.”
Speaking at the 27th Annual Madam CJ. Walker Awards Luncheon, a National Coalition of Black Women event on Saturday, Nutter challenged the story’s author, Robert Huber, “to come to this event and see some positive folks doing some positive things in this city.”I doubt Philadelphia Magazine will make any major changes, though they may finally hire a black or poc writer or staffer.
“Taking care of their business, taking care for their families,” Nutter continued. “Employed. Educated. You might want to learn the rest about this great city and its diversity. And so l I think everyone should be offended that someone would have the audacity to let out of their mind and into print, such disgusting, ignorant comments.”
I am glad to see that this dreck was challenged immediately and vociferously, from folks of all colors, and classes.
Good job folks.
News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
Last Tuesday, political strategist and writer Zerlina Maxwell appeared on Hannity and said "women should not have to get guns to protect themselves from rapists. The onus to stop the behavior, is not on the victim, but the attacker." After her remarks, she became a lightning rod for criticism and threats. (Personal note: I met Zerlina at NetRoots Nation and she is not a "FOX News Democrat" although she has appeared on the network numerous times) Femisting: Telling women to get a gun is not rape prevention
Obviously, I disagreed. Giving every woman a gun is not rape prevention. If a woman chooses to go out and buy a legal gun for self-defense, that's fine. But that shouldn't be confused with actual prevention, which is really about stopping rapes before they happen and focusing on the sole party responsible: the rapist.
Since Tuesday, I've been bombarded by conservatives on Facebook and Twitter purposefully misquoting and misunderstanding my point in order to call me dumb, bitch, idiot, and at worst threaten to gang rape common sense into me. Charming.
My point still stands whether conservatives want to acknowledge it or not. So when I said:
"I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don't want anybody to be telling women anything. I don't want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don't, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don't tell me if I'd only had a gun, I wouldn't have been raped. Don't put it on me to prevent the rape."
Way back when, MTV didn't embrace black pop music. Exactly 30 years ago, that stopped being an option. The Root: How the 'Billie Jean' Video Changed MTV.
"Billie Jean," who was not Michael Jackson's lover, is turning 30 -- or at least her video is, and it's an important anniversary in the evolution of both black music's visual expression and America's iconic music network. On March 10, 1983, MTV played "Billie Jean" for the first time and forever changed the course of its music programming in the process.
"MTV's playlist was 99 percent white until Michael Jackson forced his way on the air by making the best music videos anyone had ever seen," Rob Tannenbaum, co-author of I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, told The Root. "Compared to Michael, MTV staples like REO Speedwagon and Journey suddenly looked even more boring. And when Michael's videos created higher ratings for MTV, network executives claimed they'd 'learned a lesson' and tentatively embraced the softer side of black pop music, especially Lionel Richie."
Tannenbaum's book, an oral history featuring artists, label executives and MTV executives, recounts the frequently cited story that CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull his artists from MTV if "Billie Jean" wasn't put in rotation.
"Now they say they played 'Billie Jean' because they loved it. How plausible is it that they 'loved it'? Their playlist had no black artists on it," Yetnikoff scoffs in the book. "And at the time, Michael Jackson was black. So what is this bullsh-t that they loved it?"
Michael Jackson, Sony
Dr. Boyce Watkins weighs in on the recent announcement by former Essence Editor-in-Chief Constance C.R. White that she was fired because of clashes over the way her bosses wanted to represent African-American women. Black Blue Dog: Let's face it, Essence Magazine Has Lost Its 'Essence'.
The revelations by former Essence Magazine editor Constance White both intrigued and concerned me. Not to say that I was surprised, but I admittedly long for the days when my friend Susan Taylor stood at the helm of the magazine, and Essence represented something black, extraordinary and authentic. There was a time when we fully understood that the power of media wasn't just for making money, it was also for shaping minds. In fact, [Adolf] Hitler once said that if you want to control a group of people, all you have to do is control what they read, watch and hear.
For much of my life, when I thought about Essence Magazine, I thought about black women. Now, when I think about Essence, I think about what white people want black women to become. The mind can be under occupation in the same way that one colonizes a foreign country, and in the space of African American media, it's difficult to argue that we're not a conquered and imperialized group of people.
Actress Viola Davis and former Essence Editor-in-Chief C.R. Constance White (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Much is made of the internet being a level playing field. Tell that to the kids in Ghana. The Guardian: Online, some are more equal than others.
Then there's the narrative that says that the internet creates a level playing field. This is plausible only to inhabitants of Silicon Valley, many of whom appear to know very little about what life is like in the rest of the world. A useful antidote might be Jenna Burrell's book, Invisible Users, a study of young African internet users. The professor is an anthropologist who has spent a lot of time in Ghana and her subjects are the urban youth who frequent the internet cafes of Accra. They are decidedly not members of their country's elite and use the internet largely as a way to orchestrate encounters across distance and to acquire foreign connections – activities once limited to the wealthy, university-educated classes.
For these young people, the internet, accessed on second-hand computers (cast-offs from the US and Europe), has become a means of enacting a more cosmopolitan self. In her book Burrell offers an acutely observant account of how these kids have adopted, and adapted to their own priorities, a technological system that was not designed with them in mind.
What she reports is intriguing and touching. In the pre-internet age, for example, many Ghanaian children had pen-pals abroad, and they try to use the net to reproduce that kind of connection. One lad logged into Christian chatrooms because he was looking for potential business partners and figured that Christians would be trustworthy people, but was frustrated that they only wanted to talk about the Bible. And so on.
But there is also a sombre overtone to this. Ghana is a cash-based economy, so Ghanaians are excluded from online commerce. Worse still, many western websites arbitrarily assume that a communication from any African domain is a scam. Burrell herself found that: when she tried to buy stuff from Amazon, the site immediately reset her password and began sending her phishing warnings. Paypal told her that they didn't serve customers in Ghana or Nigeria, and started a set of security checks that led to phone verification to her US mobile, which didn't work in Ghana.
Little access to online commerce. Ghanaians at the Busy Internet Cafe in Accra, Ghana. Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images
Bill Clinton visits Haiti to promote investment. AP: Clinton awards more that $700,000 to Haitian farms.
The Clinton Foundation announced that the grants will go toward efforts to plant trees, build a coffee farm and train farmers.
Clinton has been the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti since shortly before the devastating 2010 earthquake. He left Haiti following a two-day visit accompanied by potential investors representing a perfume company, restaurants and a lingerie company.
"The country has been beat down so long and the controversies are so familiar to people that it's sometimes too easy to see the down side. I'm not naive. I know what the down side is," he told The Associated Press. But, even so, he said, "This is a place of staggering potential."
One of the delegation's visits on Monday was to a brewery Heineken NV purchased last year. The company announced on Monday that it would invest $40 million to expand the brewery and help farmers who supply it with sorghum.
Bill Clinton tours coffee-processing center during two-day trip to Haiti. (Thony Belizaire/AFT/Getty Images)
Uhuru Kenyatta (who was charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC) was declared the winner but his defeated rival says he'll challenge results in court. The Guardian: New Kenyan president pledges to co-operate with international bodies.
The next Kenyan president has pledged to work with international organisations and recognise international obligations after the confirmation of his election victory.
Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges of crimes against humanity, won the election by 8,000 votes, which carried him over the 50% threshold to avoid a second round.
Raila Odinga, the prime minister, came second with 43.3% but said he would challenge the results in the courts.
Violence after the 2007 elections caused 1,200 deaths and resulted in Kenyatta being charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Odinga said he would have conceded if the vote had been fair, adding that there was "rampant illegality" in the electoral process and that "democracy was on trial in Kenya" and he would challenge it in court.
"Any violence now could destroy this nation forever, but it would not serve anyone's interests," he said.
In his victory speech, Kenyatta said he expected the world community to respect Kenya's sovereignty and its democratic will. "We recognise and accept our international obligations and we will continue to co-operate with all nations and international institutions – in line with those obligations," he said.
Voices and Soul
by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor
The Landscape that Thylias Moss observed from the upstairs window of her childhood homes; and later, painfully felt in school, was of a particular kind of Suffering. An "exceptional" kind of Suffering, found peculiarly within the borders of an expanding American exaltation. She interiorized and walked about on that Landscape; feeling the sting of an icy winter blowing across the crowded hilly streets and the lonely flat plains of this Suffering Life. Yet as harsh as that Landscape and its populace proved, it did not defeat her or bend her to the false idol of capitulation.
Instead, she contemplates a forgotten Divinity manifested in that Landscape of extinction and meditates upon...
The Rapture Of Dry Ice Burning Off Skin As The Moment Of The Soul's Apotheosis
How will we get used to joy
if we won't hold onto it?
Not even extinction stops me; when
I've sufficient craving, I follow the buffalo,
their hair hanging below their stomachs like
fringes on Tiffany lampshades; they can be turned on
so can I by a stampede, footsteps whose sound
is my heart souped up, doctored, ninety pounds
running off a semi's invincible engine. Buffalo
heaven is Niagara Falls. There their spirit
gushes. There they still stampede and power
the generators that operate the Tiffany lamps
that let us see in some of the dark. Snow
inundates the city bearing their name; buffalo
spirit chips later melt to feed the underground,
the politically dredlocked tendrils of roots. And this
has no place in reality, is trivial juxtaposed with
the faces of addicts, their eyes practically as sunken
as extinction, gray ripples like hurdlers' track lanes
under them, pupils like just more needle sites.
And their arms: flesh trying for a moon apprenticeship,
a celestial antibody. Every time I use it
the umbrella is turned inside out,
metal veins, totally hardened arteries and survival
without anything flowing within, nothing saying
life came from the sea, from anywhere but coincidence
or God's ulcer, revealed. Yet also, inside out
the umbrella tries to be a bouquet, or at least
the rugged wrapping for one that must endure much,
without dispensing coherent parcels of scent,
before the refuge of vase in a room already accustomed
to withering mind and retreating skin. But the smell
of the flowers lifts the corners of the mouth as if
the man at the center of this remorse has lifted her
in a waltz. This is as true as sickness. The Jehovah's
Witness will come to my door any minute with tracts, an
inflexible agenda and I won't let him in because
I'm painting a rosy picture with only blue and
yellow (sadness and cowardice).
I'm something of an alchemist. Extinct.
He would tell me time is running out.
I would correct him: time ran out; that's why
history repeats itself, why we can't advance.
What joy will come has to be here right now: Cheer
to wash the dirt away, Twenty Mule Team Borax and
Arm & Hammer to magnify Cheer's power, lemon-scented
bleach and ammonia to trick the nose, improved--changed--
Tide, almost all-purpose starch that cures any limpness
except impotence. Celebrate that there's Mastercard
to rule us, bring us to our knees, the protocol we follow
in the presence of the head of our state of ruin, the
official with us all the time, not inaccessible in
palaces or White Houses or Kremlins. Besides every
ritual is stylized, has patterns and repetitions
suitable for adaptation to dance. Here come toe shoes,
brushstrokes, oxymorons. Joy
is at our tongue tips: let the great thirsts and hungers
of the world be the marvelous thirsts, glorious hungers.
Let hearbreak be alternative to coffeebreak, five
midmorning minutes devoted to emotion.
Welcome to the Front Porch!