I have never met Robert Huber. He might be a nice guy, but Huber just wrote one of the dumbest articles about race relations in Philadelphia — the Philadelphia Magazine cover story called “Being White in Philly.”
In essence, here is how I see Huber’s beef: His son is a Temple University student living at 19th and Diamond streets. Huber is scared for his safety. After this article, if I were Huber’s kid, I’d change either my name or address, maybe both. Out of Huber’s concern for his son has emerged an article that makes numerous dubious claims — not the least of which is that race is “a dominant motif in and around our city.” He gives a few anecdotes as if to prove his point (they don’t) and winds up with the incredibly arrogant assertion that in order for “troubled black communities” to be better, “white people have to risk being much more open” about “how the inner city needs to get its act together.”
If Huber didn’t tell readers that he lives in racially mixed Mount Airy, a neighborhood he describes friendlier than most, I would have sworn that he had been living under a rock — a suburban rock on a neat lawn surrounded by a white picket fence — since the 1960s. After reading the article, I wonder how Huber has such a superficial understanding of his own neighbors. Perhaps it is unintentional, but he equates the days when “black people knew their place” with today where the situation has been reversed and white people know their place. One is tempted to add it’s still a pretty good place in the power structure for whites even with the first black president (actually mixed race) in the White House and an African-American mayor in Philadelphia.
This must be the issue Philadelphia Magazine picked to become relevant on social issues other than where to eat on the trendy restaurant scene and whether you can wear white after Labor Day. The March issue, which has a black cover with “Being White in Philly” in bold white letters that promises so much more than the story delivers. What the article does deliver is an unintentional piece of irony that could have been printed as satire in The Onion with very few changes.
Imagine after an eight-page cover story ending with these words, “Meanwhile, when I drive through North Philly to visit my son, I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape. Though I wonder: Am I allowed to say even that?” He not only said it in eight long pages, but he got paid for saying it. Imagine the unfairness of it all.
I got news for Huber and others who think like him. White people aren’t the only ones who are scared going through a high-crime-rate neighborhood. The sadness is that law-abiding minorities are trapped living in drug-infested areas every day — areas where the overwhelming amount of crime is black on black. Let me relate an anecdote from the 1960s:
I shared my fears about traveling into the kind of tough area Huber was writing about with a good friend of mine who happened to be an African-American woman. She responded without the slightest hint of sarcasm that she also was afraid traveling into that area. The simple fact Huber misses is the issues he raises aren’t really black-white issues, but economic issues. Maybe Huber should talk more openly with his own neighbors about race because his article would surely have been more enlightening. He’d find that his middle class, minority neighbors, by and large, have the same values he has and share the same hopes and dreams, and yes, even fears.
The idea that one way to make “bad” neighborhoods “better” is for white people to offer minorities ideas on how the inner city can get its act together would make a great Chris Rock skit. It also might result in the need for a new set of teeth. I’ve got a feeling Huber ought to be talking to his son to get educated about race relations. The kid is apparently happy living near the Temple campus while Huber craps his pants. Maybe the kid sees the experience differently than his father.
I have my own simple set of guidelines for getting along with people who are different thanme. Treat people as people because that’s pretty much what they are. Some you’re going to like and some you’re not (hint — you’ll notice pretty quickly that there are enough idiots in every race and ethnic group, including your own, so if you can sort out the nice ones you’re ahead of the game). When the other person notices you treat them with the same discerning eye that you treat anyone else, a real connection will form. That real connection will not be based on your telling him or her everything you don’t like about their culture unless you allow them to tell you “we can handle it without your advice, so take care of your own problems.”
And that, as they say, will be the beginning of a real friendship. Best of all, Philadelphia Magazine will be able to go back to doing what it does best — overrating the restaurants who advertise within its pages.
Contact the South Philly Review at firstname.lastname@example.org.