First let me start off by saying that I am 100% proud to be a black man. And I joke a lot about white people but the truth of the matter is that I realized a long time ago that not every white person is out to get you and not every black person will have your back. And yes, I do see race and I do see color but most importantly I see the heart. And once you’ve proven to me that you have a good heart, then I fuck with you.
I don’t care what color your skin is.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to get into this Being White in Philly article (which, in my opinion, isn’t even that well written. I thought Philadelphia Magazine was supposed to be a reputable source of information for Philadelphians? Shame on you for printing such garbage)
According to this article, white people are the real victims of racism because they’re being punished for the crimes of their ancestors.
And it’s just not fair!
Which is why when they see a group of black people walking towards them they cross the street for fear of being attacked. Women hold their purses just a little bit closer when they see a big black man coming towards them because in the back of her mind she knows that her Marc Fake-obs bag would go so much better with what he’s wearing, and of course he’s going to steal it from her.
Question: Do black people commit crimes?
Answer: Of course we do!
But white people shoot up schools and movie theaters.
They like to inappropriately touch little kids and turn a blind eye to what’s been going on.
The bottom line is that our country is fucked up, regardless of race. But in the two aforementioned examples the perception of a crime happening is based on the time-honored tradition of WHITE FEAR.
From the beginning of the article white fear is struck into the hearts of its readers by transporting them into the heart of North Philly, then dangling the ‘Cop Approved’ fear in front of their face as if to say ‘Yup, we knew we had no business down there, and the cop just confirmed it for us!’
Then, we’re treated to a lovely story about how the author, Robert Huber, feels as if he should deliberately speak and hold open doors for black people at his neighborhood Wawa as an attempt towards ‘Race Relations’.
Let me just tell you that speaking to me and holding a door for me doesn’t have anything to do with race relations. It has everything to do with you being raised with manners, which transcends race.
It was around this point in the article where I realized that I couldn’t truly convey what I feel without some key moments to refer back to.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Of course, it is black people who have faced generations of discrimination and who deal with it still. But our public discourse ignores the fact that race—particularly in a place like Philadelphia—is also an issue for white people. Though white people never talk about it. –Huber
First and foremost, Race is never an issue for white people because theirs is the most admired race. Think of the fair-skinned blacks that used to pass for white back during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Or think of people with different ethnic backgrounds who pay ridiculous amounts of money for straight hair, different colored eyes or to lighten their complexion and it becomes evident that race and racial identity has never been an issue for white people.
Whiteness is heralded as the pinnacle of perfection. But in all honesty, whiteness is one of the biggest misconceptions of life because it is nothing more than a construct.
It is a basic ideal that most aspire towards, especially white people themselves. Whiteness is the encapsulation of good hair, good homes, good credit and nothing but good times and success.
Unfortunately, it’s a fraudulent perception of superiority because even the ones who achieve Whiteness have inner conflict and personal struggles like addiction, depression and broken families. And it also has its own division within itself when you think of wealthy white people who look down on the less fortunate, as well as the ancestors of immigrants like the Italians, the Irish and anyone else who came over here after the Mayflower (allegedly)
Whiteness is a myth that belongs to everyone yet no one can ever really claim it.
-Their stories bring home just how complicated white people’s negotiation with race and class is in this city, and how varied: Everyone does have a race story, it turns out, and every story is utterly unique.
Once again, when it comes to race and class White people have the upper hand. They don’t have to make any concessions that won’t infringe upon their inherent white privilege, and ultimately anything they have to offer to a conversation about race is null unless they can approach it intelligently with an understanding of;
a) Why race is such a huge problem in this country?
b) In what ways do we allow the cycle to continue?
c) How does our society perpetuate the issue?
One of the main reasons is that people tend to believe that there isn’t a race problem anymore. But it’s completely asinine to deny racial tension or displacement in a country where the original inhabitants now live in pockets sprawled out across a land that was once theirs. The history of Whiteness will show you how the English left one country to “start another one” in a society that was already civilized and operational. THEN, they began importing new people to “help” them build a new civilization. A race of people whose efforts laid the foundation for this country, yet their blood, tears and contributions would simply be reduced to a reminder in February about how black people were once subservient to whites.
–I buttonhole a woman I’ll call Anna, a tall, slim, dark-haired beauty from Moscow getting out of her BMW on an alley just south of Girard College. Anna goes to a local law school, works downtown at a law firm, and proceeds to let me have it when we start talking about race in her neighborhood. “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? I walk to work in Center City, black guys make compliments, ‘Hey beautiful. Hey sweetie.’ White people look but don’t make comments. … ”
You know what Svetlana; I will give you that one. A lot of black people do use the discrimination we face as a crutch to hold us back from advancing.
It is, much like white privilege, one of the most horrific innate traits we inherit and keep with us almost all of our lives. Mainly, because when some people look at us, regardless of whether we’ve got advanced degrees from the best schools in the world, or come from morally upstanding homes, all they see is a pot smoking porch monkey who does nothing but live off the government and make babies every year.
Darling, had you done your research before you emigrated here (yes, I used the word emigrated. I learned it while I was in between smoking pot and fucking) maybe you would have come to an understanding of the psychology behind American racism. It is like no other entity in the world. It’s comprised of equal parts contempt, bitterness and centuries of unresolved feelings between the races. And that’s not a black thing or a white thing.
That’s an American thing.
You could live here for the rest of your life and never understand it so just make sure you keep your doors locked while you drive your Beemer through North Philly. Because whether you choose to call it Fairmount, Mount Airy or Brewerytown….it’s all North Philly.
-One early evening, just as light is fading, I chat for half an hour with a short, middle-aged woman named Claire who’s walking two terri-poos at 26th and Poplar. She’s a blunt-speaking widow who’s lived a couple blocks south for 30 years. I ask Claire if racial dynamics have changed over time. “It’s mostly white people,” she says, “so there’s no dynamic to change.” I motion Claire down 26th a few doors, out of earshot of a black guy standing at the corner, to ask:
“Do you find that you need to treat African-Americans any differently, to tread lightly, to worry about what you might say?”
“No,” she says. “There’s no need to be careful if you treat people as human beings.” A black woman comes out of the rowhouse behind us, and Claire adds, certainly loud enough for the woman to hear, and probably the guy on the corner, too, “As long as you don’t have a gun in your hand, I’m okay with you.”
I don’t even know where to start.
There’s so much wrong with this that it may take me a while to convey what it is I’m truly feeling.
I guess I’ll start with the fact that you’re speaking to a woman who, in almost the same breath, says something very profound and then something very accusatory with her statement about treating people like human beings and then elevating her voice to make sure the black people within close proximity can hear her state “As long as you don’t have a gun in your hand, I’m okay with you.”
For this to be a private moment between two white Philadelphians, one that was facilitated by Huber whisking his new friend and her two pretentious little dogs away from the ears of a nearby black guy, what was the need for her to make sure her black neighbors heard her?
She negates any validity she has towards understanding race by making the last statement. And in that instance is she making the statement to expose her conversation with Huber to make him look like more of an asshole or is she doing it in a tone of mockery that cements white solidarity with Huber?
All of the moments I’ve listed never angered me. At certain points they made me chuckle. At other points the words caused my mouth to drop and my eyebrow to rise. However, nothing could compare to the part of the article that was the most predictable.
When Huber interviewed an old white man named John.
That’s when blacks from the South, with chips on their shoulders, John says, moved North. They moved into great brownstones above Girard and trashed them, using banisters and doors to stoke their furnaces instead of buying coal. Before long, it looked like Berlin after the war. Whites moved out.
Do you see them? Loud, brash and bestial, ripping apart their homes while exhibiting primal behavior? Causing white fear and resentment in a neighborhood that was once so homogenously covered in alabaster?
John paints a very vivid picture of a time when the blacks moved in and the whites moved out.
What John will fail to inform you is that during the great migration after the war, when many blacks were coming to live in the North, there were very few job opportunities for them amidst their new surroundings, and I’m just all too certain that John and his fellow good Christian white neighbors weren’t necessarily jumping at the chance to help them out.
Also, don’t even believe for one moment that these people were offered first placement in beautiful homes and apartments. More than likely they were granted access to shitty buildings with appendages that were falling apart and dilapidated.
Plus, they had no jobs.
You say banister? I say FIREWOOD.
You say door? I say FIREWOOD.
How else are you supposed to keep your family warm when you can’t afford coal and no one wants to hire you? When it comes to the black experience, we will always find a way to make it work because we’re not afforded the opportunity to throw our hands up and whine when things become difficult. We have to keep it pushing.
And if you want an inside glimpse into the subtlety of white fear and white privilege, read between the lines of old man John’s words.
That’s when blacks from the South, with chips on their shoulders, John says, moved North
What exactly is the chip on their shoulder, John? That they had the audacity to attempt to diversify your lily-white neighborhood? That they would even assume they could infringe upon your dream at a good life by living amongst you and trying to provide for their families the best way they could, just like you?
When people say that racism isn’t alive in this country I have to laugh at them because it’s still very much alive. Especially when you take into account that slavery ended almost a hundred and fifty years ago and the advent of the Civil Rights movement was just over fifty years ago. The remnants of that era lie within the men and women who were raised or raised children during that time. As long as they continue the cycle of what they’ve been taught race will always be an issue in this country.
Last summer he was sitting on his stoop in a lounge chair and went in to use the bathroom, and when he returned, there was no chair—a neighbor watched a black kid on a bike zero in to lift it.
This is pretty fucked up. No one should have to worry about someone stealing their property regardless of the neighborhood they live in. But in this scenario, I’m thinking that John should question the character of his neighbor, who just sat there and watched while somebody stole his chair. Granted, the neighbor could have allowed the white fear to kick into his brain and remain silent because he didn’t want to get shot, which is understandable because some people are crazy and will resort to such behavior.
Still, in my honest opinion, this whole scenario is probably a lie.
Given the monumental changes he’s seen and his declining health, John no longer risks venturing alone beyond his block. There is a monumental spread, too, in his thinking, when he considers the range of black people who have entered his neighborhood.
He tells me about the time, a Saturday afternoon more than 10 years ago, when he came downstairs to his living room to find a stranger had come in through his front door—“It was a nigger boy, a big tall kid. He wanted money.”
It’s a strange moment, not only because of the ugly word, but because of John’s calm in delivering it, as if it is merely fact, one that explains the vast changes in his world.
Robert……you’re speaking to an old white man, who has already given you every clue that you need to realize he’s not a champion for race relations, and you’re shocked by him using the word nigger?
I believe that you intended for someone to use this word at some point. I don’t for one moment believe that you found the moment strange at all. I think you needed this old white man to be in your article because older Americans, both black and white, still hold onto an antiquated view towards race, homosexuals and women in this country and most elderly people have no filter. They’ve lived long enough to say what they want and usually get away with it. I’m sure John reminded Huber of someone from his youth who held onto the same views, whether they were expressed in a similar vernacular or not. This moment was written in to create shock value for whites and anger for blacks.
It did nothing for me but make me laugh.
There’s more to the article but it’s all the same hackneyed rhetoric you can expect from a piece designed to incite white fear:
- A young mother who does the right thing and places her children in a diversified school, all while aiding other mothers to do the same, though they’re reticent to do so because they don’t know who else goes there.
- A tough, ex-pat New Yorker who encountered black goons and drug dealers next door to his business that threatened to kill him, but he was victorious when the head goon was shipped to prison in a prescription drugs bust
- A couple speaking ill about the unfortunate children from the other side of Girard Avenue whose Halloween costumes lacked the same flair as their own kids
This article is trash. Robert Huber paints a portrait of white people who live their lives with the knowledge that black people are around somewhere, but nowhere near enough for them to ever engage with. And when they do engage with them it’s a negative, unpleasant experience.
Ironically, the call to action at the end of the article was for white people to actually engage with blacks. I understand what he’s trying to say, but it comes across like every white person is Dian Fossey and the surrounding blacks are the gorillas in the mist of North Philly. This revelation is condescending yet boldly indicative of just how oblivious some white people are in regards to stepping out of their own bubble and engaging with the rest of the world as a whole.
And the fact that Philadelphia magazine would stoop so low as to even write something this basic and predictable shows how much they value trash over content.
I believe that the only way a true dialogue about race can be achieved is through black people not viewing every white person as their oppressors and white people not “engaging” with black people solely as a weak attempt at correcting race relations.
The only thing that makes us different is the color of our skin.
We, as AMERICANS, allow the chains of race to hold us back from achieving common ground with one another, and until we break those chains we will always have to be faced with race, race relations and misunderstanding.
And on a final note, to Robert Huber, you wrote an entire one-sided article about what it’s like to be White in Philly. When I have to read offerings such as this, which add no solution to the issues we face with race in our city except to cause panic and anger, it makes it just a little bit harder to be Black in Philly.
Or anywhere else in this country for that matter.