The issue of race in the City of Brotherly Love has come to the forefront after a recent Philadelphia Magazine cover story called “Being White in Philly.”
The article, written by Bob Huber, a white man, describes the experiences of white people who live in racially mixed neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The story garnered plenty of attention since it appeared at the beginning of March especially since Mayor Michael Nutter got a hold of it.
On Friday, Nutter sent a letter to the city’s Commission on Human Relations in response to the article. In his letter, Nutter claimed the article had a “disgusting tone” and criticized its “collection of disparaging beliefs and negative stereotypes.” He also claimed the story “used isolated negative experiences” and made “generalizations” to portray African Americans as lazy, irresponsible and criminal. Nutter requested that the city’s Commission on Human Relations conduct an “inquiry” into the state of racial issues in Philadelphia.
Rue Landau, the Executive Director on Human Relations, agreed, claiming that the article perpetuated “harmful stereotypes.” He also stated the Commission is currently looking at “relations in the city.”
Huber defended his article in an email, claiming his goal when writing the piece was to simply address the city’s problems in race relations and to “push for a better dialogue.” While he agreed with the Mayor’s decision to ask for an inquiry on the city’s racial issues, he also called Nutter’s description of the article “off the mark to the point of absurdity.”
Tom McGrath, the editor of Philadelphia Magazine, also called Nutter’s statements “sophomoric,” according to Philly.com. McGrath accused Nutter of being “more interested in scoring political points than having a serious conversation about race.”
On Monday, McGrath hosted a panel discussion on the article and the issues it has raised at the National Constitution Center. More than 250 people showed up for the event titled "Can We Talk About Race?"
"We have never been able to resolve the issue of race in our society," said Walter Palmer, one of the panelists.
After the panel, McGrath admitted that the article had flaws.
"I think the flaws in this piece were exacerbated by mistakes in terms of the topic," he said. "The one thing I think we might have done a bit differently is how we framed it."
The Human Resources Commission also voted to have a public meeting on the article on April 18 in Fairmount-Brewerytown.
The reaction to the article from Philadelphia residents has been mixed.
“I thought the magazine was inappropriate to put outside,” said Yvette Rocco who works at a local newsstand. “I didn’t like what the cover said.”
"I thought it was an older white male who visited a particular neighborhood and wrote about his experience," said Christopher Norris, a journalist. "I think he has the right to do so."
“The more dialogue we have on race and race issues, the more understanding we have of where other people are coming from,” said James Brunson.
Chad Lassiter, a sociologist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University believes the article has provided a valuable opportunity for the city to openly discuss the issue of race.
“We need not engage in reactionary politics,” he said. “We need to call for a race dialogue in the city of Philadelphia. We need to look at ourselves and how we’re not being tolerant. We need to become more tolerant and embrace difference.”