Philadelphia Magazine published an article this month titled “Being White in Philly.” Written by Robert Huber, who includes his personal reflections as well as interviews with white Philadelphians, the piece raises troubling and real problems in current U.S. race relations in an open and fearless way that does not usually characterize the media’s handling of the topic. The letters from readers, which you can also read at the link provided above, demonstrate that the article drilled directly into a nerve, and exposed feelings by white citizens, not just in Philadelphia but elsewhere in America, that need to be considered, analyzed, and dealt with whether or not one believes that they are justified or fair. Huber uncovered some of the most stubborn obstacles to a post-racial U.S., and they persist because we remain reluctant to discuss them
It’s an excellent piece of journalism that reminded me of my late roommate in law school, a young, Irish Catholic ex-Marine from the “rough” parts of Philly, who opened my eyes about racial attitudes like no one else I have ever known. He was intelligent, observant, and beyond any question, a racist, and openly admitted it. He also vividly describe the Philadelphia experiences that he felt justified his racism. I could see his handsome smile as I read Huber’s piece. The article itself, however, is not racist in any way.
Mayor Michael Nutter, however, either out of careless reading, racial identification, foolishness or willful blindness, decided to attack the article and the magazine for running it. He wrote a furious letter of protest to Philadelphia Magazine, a letter which, as I will shortly demonstrate, crossed bright lines of ethical reasoning and appropriate conduct by a government official. Philadelphia Magazine’s editor, Tom McGrath responded perfectly:
“I applaud the mayor for asking for an inquiry into the state of racial issues in Philadelphia. The need to have a deeper discussion about race in Philadelphia is exactly why we ran our story in the first place. Like any reader, the mayor is entitled to think and say what he wants about the story. That said, his sophomoric statements about the magazine and mischaracterization of the piece make me wonder if he’s more interested in scoring political points than having a serious conversation about the issues. Furthermore, his call for a “rebuke” of the magazine by the PHRC is rich with irony. This is the same mayor who just yesterday was shouted down by an unruly mob in City Council; now he himself wants shut down conversation about an important issue in our city. In short, the mayor loves the First Amendment–as long as he and the government can control what gets said.”
Now let’s consider, piece by piece, Nutter’s letter to the magazine, and why it deserved McGrath’s criticism, and more. My comments will be in bold. Continue reading