The March issue of Philadelphia magazine has two covers. One features Bhavna Vaswani, the wife of director M. Night Shyamalan, and teases a story about fashion. The other is black with bold, white lettering that reads, "BEING WHITE IN PHILLY." The corresponding feature, written by Philly Mag writer-at-large Robert Huber, focuses on racial perceptions in Philly's Fairmount neighborhood. It's got everyone buzzing and/or yelling.
Philly Mag's editor, Tom McGrath explains the decision to publish the piece in his editor's letter in the front of the March issue. It's also published online.
City Paper's Dan Denvir ripped the piece apart before it was even published online in full.
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.
The piece was featured on Romenesko on Monday.
Philebrity said the piece went over, "like a fart in church." Then they offered Philly Mag's advertisers a 50-percent discount if they jumped ship.
This week, Philly Mag writers will weigh in on the piece on the Philly Post. Philly Mag writer Jason Fagone has already said the piece doesn't make sense as journalism.
The way I see it, the story is doomed before Bob has a chance to write a single sentence. The framing is that this is a story about “being white.” It’s going to explore race from a single point of view. No black people will be quoted, no Hispanic people, no Asian people. (And they’re not.) This seems fatal to me. All Bob can accomplish within the frame of “being white” is exactly what he does accomplish, which is to chronicle the racial fears of one particular group of people, moving among his sources as a kind of confessor.
The first portion of "Being White in Philly" hit the Internet a few days ago, but the piece has since been published in its entirety. It seems to have severely pissed people off. Having spent a total of nearly two years at Philadelphia magazine (internships/part-time contributor/full-time staffer), I can assure you that this sort of reaction is not a rarity. But, in an era in which white people need to be instructed on when it is and isn't appropriate to laugh during Django Unchained, Philly Mag neutralized its decision to run the piece by noting that a frank discussion about racial tension in Philadelphia is a necessity. Cries of race baiting aside, that's not an entirely baseless premise.
Let's hope that the race discussion doesn't start and end with white people in Fairmount. Let's hope it includes the voices of minorities other than the city's African-American citizens. Let's hope it happens sooner than later. Let's hope it expands further than one news cycle about one magazine feature.