Make no mistake folks. Philadelphia Magazine’s latest foray into “race relations” is less about having a conversation and more about having a donnybrook.
By Denise Clay
When I think of Philadelphia Magazine, a periodical that is as inaccurately named as anything I’ve ever seen, I think of two things:
One is the staff of the Temple News when I was an undergraduate student at the place that sometimes runs as fast as it can from its title of “Diversity University” and the other is the movie Fight Club.
The Temple News thing I’ll explain later. But in terms of the Fight Club thing, it comes to mind when I think about Philly Mag’s relationship, or more accurately lack of relationship, with most of the people who live in the city for which it is named… you know, people of color.
After last week’s cover story (or shall I say Cover Story unless you’re staying in a hotel) “Being White in Philly“, I’m convinced that Philadelphia Magazine has its own special thing it calls Let’s Piss off the Black Folks” Fight Club.
Now the first rule of this fight club, like the first rule of Fight Club, is that you don’t talk about it…But where Philadelphia Magazine’s Let’s Piss Off All The Black Folks Fight Club is different is that it allows you to talk about it on a television show, radio program, or anywhere else you go to try and explain away some boneheaded thing you’ve done.
And make no mistake, this was a boneheaded article. This saga of bonehead starts with author Robert Huber fearing for his son’s safety as he drops him off at his Diamond Street apartment near Temple University. Where all of his friends see new development (and where longtime residents seen creeping gentrification), he sees, well, this…
“Driving up Broad Street as I head home to Mount Airy, I stop at a light just north of Lycoming and look over at some rowhouses. One has a padlocked front door. A torn sheet covering the window in that door looks like it might be stained with sewage. I imagine not a crackhouse, but a child, maybe several children, living on the other side of that stained sheet. Plenty of children in Philadelphia live in places like that. Plenty live on Diamond, where my son rents, where there always seem to be a lot of men milling around doing absolutely nothing, where it’s clearly not a safe place to be.”
And the reason why he thinks that nothing’s been done about this is because white folks are afraid to tell black folks that they’re a mess and need to get their act together.
(Obviously, this guy has never had a chat with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney…)
This lack of “honesty” with black folks on the part of whites is borne of the supposition that race as an issue is only looked at from a so-called “black paradigm” and that while it is also an issue for whites, whites are never asked for their feelings on it…something that Huber goes on to rectify by going to the city’s gentrifying Fairmount section and asking white folks there about their views on race.
From Anna, the law student from Russia who believes that all black men do is smoke pot, make babies and comment on her looks to John, who liked his neighborhood until the blacks moved in from the South with “chips on their shoulders”, to Jen, who’s trying to get her neighbors to try the local public school for their kids and Ben, who stood up to drug dealers to stay on his block, just about all of the possible stereotypes are covered.
And presented in a way that guarantees a fight.
And let’s be honest here. Philadelphia Magazine may say it’s interested in a conversation about race, but what it really wants is a fight.
I say this because this is what this inaccurately named magazine does. Every year, Philadelphia Magazine publishes at least one story that lands it on the Facebook pages of black folks all over the city.
People read the story and get mad.
They have meetings and hold events to try and calm everyone down. In this case, a group of activists from Rising Sons, the Knight Foundation’s Black Male Engagement project, and others are holding an event in LOVE Park at 4 p.m. on March 20 to show that not all black folks are wantonly procreating while simultaneously smoking weed.
Organizations like the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, or in some cases even the National Association of Black Journalists, issue a statement decrying the article and the stereotypes it perpetrates. PABJ President Johann Calhoun called Huber’s article “a poor display of civic journalism on many fronts; and irresponsible in its action of race-baiting in creating tension and animosity between Blacks and Whites.”
Civil rights activists like Michael Coard, who writes for the magazine’s blog The Philly Post go H.A.M. (short for Hard As A, well, you know the rest…) on the magazine about the story.
And Philadelphia Magazine laughs all the way to the bank with the money it’s made from all those page views on its website.
Now a big part of the problem here is that the last staffer of color Philadelphia Magazine had was former University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson. The magazine has only hired five interns of color during the years it’s been around. Toward finding a way to change that, PABJ has invited Philadelphia Magazine editor Tom McGrath and Huber to a special meeting on March 19 to hear the group’s concerns on that score.
But I’m not optimistic. Do you know how many times Philadelphia Magazine has probably patted organizations representing journalists of color on the head over this issue?
What I would like to see people of color do when it comes to Philadelphia Magazine is start a serious “Ignoring Your Dumb Behinds” program. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that I pretend that your grotesquely misnamed publication doesn’t exist. I boycott you. I send letters to your advertisers saying that if you want another dime of my money, you’ll stop putting ads in this bird cage liner with the glossy pages.
In other words, I’ll speak to Philadelphia Magazine in the only language it seems to understand: the language of “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”…
But let me get back to the Temple News aspect of this.
I found it kind of ironic that Huber is afraid of his white, middle-class son going to Temple because this is the kind of student that Temple has been trying to attract…almost to the point where students in the neighborhoods around the school need not apply.
Back when I worked for my alma mater’s Office of News Communications, I found myself saying more than once to my colleagues that if you don’t change the perception on the part of their white, suburban parents, it’s not going to matter. Temple is still going to be seen as this unsafe place surrounded by hostile blacks who want nothing more than to steal and beat up your kids.
Thank you, Mr. Huber, for making this argument better than I ever could.
Too bad it’ll lead to more kids missing out on a really quality education.
But then again, scaring white people back into the suburbs is what Philadelphia Magazine does best…