Controversy over that problematic Philadelphia magazine March cover story called “Being White in Philly” continues to simmer. In the latest development, Mayor Michael Nutter has sent a letter to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations decrying the “disgusting” tone of the piece and accusing the magazine of having “sunk to a new low even for a publication that has long pretended that its suburban readers were the only citizens civically engaged and socially active in the Philadelphia area.” In the piece, based on anonymous interviews, Robert Huber makes the claim that white people are afraid to talk about race for fear of being called racist.
“That the magazine thought a collection of these despicable, over-generalized, mostly anonymous assumptions rose to the level of journalism is unfortunate enough,” the mayor wrote. “Worse, some of the residents of the nation’s fifth-largest city who are quoted in the piece seem to have ignored every positive anecdote they might otherwise have shared about a positive experience with African-Americans in favor of negative stories, many of them not even clearly attributable to African-Americans at all, to allow the author to feed his own misguided perception of African-Americans – notwithstanding his own acknowledged daily experiences on his own block – as an ethnic group that, in its entirety, is lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, and largely criminal.”
Nutter asked that the Human Relations Commission “consider specifically whether Philadelphia magazine and the writer, Bob Huber are appropriate for rebuke by the Commission in light of the potentially inflammatory effect and the reckless endangerment to Philadelphia’s racial relations possibly caused by the essay’s unsubstantiated assertions.”
Commission head Rue Landau has already responded saying, “The Commissioners and I share the concerns of the Mayor regarding the racial insensitivity and perpetuation of harmful stereotypes portrayed in the Philadelphia Magazine piece. We will take up the Mayor’s charge and, as a matter of fact, we are already looking at intergroup relations in the city, particularly in changing communities.”
The commision will take up the topic at their next public meeting which will be in the Fairmount/Brewerytown community, the geographical focus of the Philly mag piece. The meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 18 at a location to be announced.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Philadelphia magazine editor Tom McGrath sent me an email on March 15 confirming details about a March 18 panel discussion called “Can We Talk About Race?” McGrath will moderate the discussion at the National Constitution Center which will be followed by a town hall session. Robert Huber, author of “Being White in Philly,” will be on the panel as will writer Solomon Jones, activist Chris Norris and Farah Jiminez , who heads up the People’s Emergency Center.
On March 19, McGrath is scheduled to meet with members of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Norris, along with some Temple University, has organized a “Being in Philly” gathering for March 20, the first day of spring. There’ll be music and free water ice giveaways. Norris, the founder of Techbook Online, says he wants to show a positive side of black life in Philadelphia. According to Norris, Huber has agreed to attend.