I was recently sent the cover story from the latest issue of Philadelphia Magazine in which Robert Huber tries to make sense of the undercurrent of racism that exists within this city, and describe the experience of being a white man in Philadelphia. You can read Huber’s four page article here, and draw your own conclusions. I’m not here to turn Huber’s article into a soapbox for me to say I’m right, he’s wrong, and that’s the end of it. I’m not here to do what Tumblr users do best and give a sophomoric interpretation of white privilege and racism just because Huber says things that are controversial. Rather, I will just point out several of the shortcomings of this article in the hopes that it will provide insight on the point that Huber is trying to make.
- The idea that Huber is writing from a position of a middle-class white man with privilege is an accurate judgment, but lets not go overboard. This article on racism is easy for Huber to write, because he is a white, middle-class man. He pretty much has every form of agency. Huber pays no mind to the effects of racism on a person or a community, rather he just complains about how racism and the thought of it makes him uncomfortable.
- He completely ignores the other forms of racial tension that exist in this city such as the tension between African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos in North Philadelphia, the tension between Caucasians and Latinos in South Philadelphia, and the tension between African-Americans, Caucasians, and Asians in South Philadelphia.
- Huber offers a very shallow perceptive of a very deep and complex issue. He doesn’t even attempt to explain on any thorough level why racism exists in this city, he just talks to a bunch of people, and even the people he interviews don’t say too much.
- The whole article reads like someone who says, “Not to sound racist but…” and then says something totally racist. If Huber would just talk to people instead of being blinded by his own prejudice, he would see that people in the “troubling” neighborhoods that he pretends to feel sorry for are just as awesome and kind as the people in the “safer” neighborhoods.
- He makes reference to a claim that an epidemic of young African-American males are being incarcerated, but never connects it to the overriding problem: African-American people being targeted by predominantly Caucasian police officers. There was also “stop and frisk,” which was ruled unconstitutional due to its racist motives.
- Students at Temple are targeted by criminals because they are easy targets. They are less likely to fight back, they might not be aware of their surroundings, or they are less savvy to survival skills living in the city. Race has very little to do with it.
- Huber ignores the fact that in some neighborhoods, the only Caucasian people seen are police that come to arrest people. Caucasians are seen as the enemy in some neighborhoods due to the nature of how some police officers operate.
- Philly is notorious for not changing much. People here are very stubborn with everything, especially with their attitudes and opinions. Huber isn’t wrong about the role of the race riots and deindustrialization following WWII. However, he ignores the fact that Philadelphians live in neighborhoods that are segregated on a de facto level, and many Philadelphians who are Caucasian or African American see things from the old-timer perspective. For example, older Caucasians will remember MOVE, John Street’s reverse racism, and the 1964 race riots to form their perspective. Meanwhile, African-Americans will remember the way Philadelphia Police handled MOVE, as well as how people like Frank Rizzo practiced extremely racist politics their entire tenure in office.
- Here’s the big one, and long-time readers of the site know how I feel about this. I cannot stand when snobby Caucasians, like some of the students at Temple, Drexel, and UPenn go around putting down the neighborhood/area that the school is in. A Caucasian kid who goes around calling an area a “ghetto” or whining about how unsafe the neighborhood is is being extremely disrespectful and offensive to the community who lives there year-round, as opposed to living there while in the fantasy world that is college.
I don’t know what the solution is, but articles like Huber’s aren’t helping much of anything. Huber pretty much tries to have a frank and honest discussion of racism while being extraordinarily racist himself. If Huber and other dumbass Caucasians stopped paying so much attention to the color of someone’s skin, while taking a stand AGAINST racism and speaking out against those who behave in such a manner, then maybe progress will be made. Being afraid of a neighborhood or a person just because of where they come from is absolutely shameful and disgusting. Talk to people different from you and get to know them. Learn someone’s life story from the highest highs and the lowest lows, but more than anything else, stop being a racist sissy who whines behind a magazine column.