Being Black While Reading ‘Being White In Philly’


When I got finished reading “Being White In Philly” I was a little taken aback. You see I would expect that an article called being white in Philly would mention the growing wage disparity between Whites and Blacks and how that was a distinct advantage for White People. I would think an article that is on the front cover of Philadelphia Magazine would mention the wealth gap or the sentencing disparity between black and white suspects. But no because in the world of the author, the white bubble that he and his fellow passive aggressive racists with good intentions have created for themselves, those are black issues. And White Privilege doesn’t even exist.

The whole tone of the article is odd to me. It reveals what we Blacks know but most Whites don’t want to admit. Racism isn’t the sole property of the South or the obscenely rich or the extremely poor. Racism truly isn’t the sole property of White people. But we never get a naked look at the mind of someone who doesn’t realize they are a racist. And I applaud Philadelphia Magazine for that. The article focuses almost exclusively on the horrible experiences that the goodly white citizens of Philadelphia have had in their dealings with the unruly, lawless, feisty, uneducated, unsophisticated blacks in the city.

WhiteInPhillyThe author refers to the these as “race stories”. He notes that all of his White friends have them. Because when you have a bad experience with a crook, or an asshole, if they are Black it’s a race story. Indeed this article would lead you to believe that White people never do anything bad to each other. This article treats Whites that live in Black neighborhoods by choice like they are brave pioneers surrounded by hostiles. And while the author does show revolt at the squalor and poverty that some Blacks have to deal with he doesn’t express any empathy for the people who actually have to live in those neighborhoods he drives through unless they happen to be White. He makes it seem as if the black on white crime rate is out of control making no note of the fact that Blacks don’t like being the victims of Black criminals either. The Author implies that bringing up the inner city’s problems with his Black Mt. Airy neighbors is Taboo because he would be accused of being racist. He then goes on to show that he is racist. He does this by interviewing other racists and validating their hate speech by painting them as sympathetic characters.

Let’s see we have the naive Russian transplant with no knowledge or reference point for the cultural battles that shaped our nation’s race relation. She sees the welfare state as proof that blacks are lazy shiftless do-nothings her quote: “I’ve been here for two years, I’m almost done,” she says. “Blacks use skin color as an excuse. 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 make babies and smoking pot?…..”

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Also one of my favorite recurring characters in this type of article is the quaint Archie Bunker-esque old white guy racist. The one who you’re supposed to feel sorry for because the world has changed so much and he’s so old. His antiquated, unsophisticated, views on race and his disgusting use of the word “nigger” is supposed to be able to be excused because he’s old and he’s from another time and he says earlier that he has no problem with “The Blacks”. (And no he doesn’t mean a family with the last name Black).

His presence in this article is clearly meant to show us that the other well meaning Whites in the Article are not racist and are frankly perplexed by all the Blacks they deal with misconstruing their altruistic color blind intentions. I mean of course the lady who sent out a Facebook message asking if her classmates had seen her Blackberry wasn’t being racist. All the white kids in her group simply replied no. But to the Black girl in her class it was a loaded question.

Since this article is called “Being White in Philly” we of course zero in on the perfectly innocent intentions of the main character. The Black girl seems totally ridiculous. “That wasn’t about race, you see that right?” The author seems to say. “That Black girls reaction was totally uncalled for”. But what the author doesn’t say speaks volumes on his understanding of race and his “want” to create a rational dialogue. Never stopping to consider the point of view of someone, who throughout her life despite whatever she may have struggled to achieve, is still viewed as lesser or strange or foreign. Indeed the fact that her story is in an article primarily about whites dealing with the criminal malfeasance of Blacks is itself a pretty good indicator that the kind of racism that primed her response is still in abundance.

The whole point of this article seems to be that Blacks are the ones making it hard for the good non racist White people to create an honest dialogue because we obsessively pull the race card. Whites can’t talk to us about crime because we are all excuse-niks who will shrug off the ills of society and blame racism. And if you truly believe that then you might in fact be a racist.

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“Being White”, was a painful but necessary read for those of us who know people like the author. I could paint a picture of the point of view of the post-racism racist but nobody tells it better than the source of that muted passive-aggressive hatred better than the racist himself. So crime perpetrated by Blacks in the inner city makes it hard for you to talk to your middle class neighbors in Mt. Airy? Why? What do those two groups of people have in common other than the color of their skin?

I don’t live in Mt. Airy but I am nearby in West Oak Lane. I don’t like people who lack ambition either. But I would never chastise someone for being a welfare cheat in a country where the richest 1% willfully manipulate the law and rig the game against them. I don’t like crime either and I want to see criminals brought to justice. But I’m not going to pretend like institutionalized racism and the economic disparity, lack of quality education and lack of opportunities that disproportionately affect my people didn’t cause the conditions that foster criminality.

The author seems to want to have it both ways. He wants to have an open dialogue with Blacks but he doesn’t want us to mention racism. In this piece he spends the majority of his time among whites perpetuating racial scare tactics. I don’t think he’s being maliciously hateful or disingenuous. But what he is doing is expressing a stunning naiveté about the current nadir in race relations among the dwindling middle class.

To end this piece I’ll bring up another loaded term that educated Blacks often struggle with. Oddly it’s a compliment that prominent Blacks often receive. The media will compliment well-spoken Blacks in the spotlight on being articulate. And they don’t just say it in passing they really dwell on it. As if English isn’t our first language. We Blacks don’t particularly care for that compliment. I know for me personally I’m not impressed when someone has a great vocabulary and good grammar. Because I know that the ideas are more important than the words used to articulate them. So I’ll end this by saying the author of “Being White In Philly” Robert Huber is very articulate and well spoken. And hopefully someone forwards this to him and he sees it for the patronizing non-compliment it’s intended to be.

E. Knight lives in Philadelphia. Check out his blog