Being White (and Racist) in Philly

Being White (and Racist) in Philly

Jamilah Lemieux looks at a controversial Philadelphia Magazine piece that examines the plight of the White urban dweller

Jamilah Lemieux

by Jamilah Lemieux, March 06, 2013

Being White (and Racist) in Philly

In a rapidly gentrifying city, race is a major issue...just not in the way Robert Huber seems to believe. 

if the increased visibility of non-heterosexual, White male leadership wasn’t bad enough, there’s also the ever-growing population of Latinos and the ever growing influence on national and local elections that comes with them. ¡Ay dios mío!

Huber isn’t a KKK-sympathizer in the deep South, but his essay deeply reflects the “real American” panic that comes from deeply-engrained notions of White supremacy that are frustrated when one becomes a minority. It’s all well and fine to move to that hip “new” emergent urban community, with the relatively affordable rents, trendy organic markets and yoga studios… until you gotta deal with the Black and poor people who still live there.

Gentrification provides new urban dwellers the opportunity to learn so much about what American racism actually looks and feels like, and there are those who have gained greater understanding about the plight of poor people of color by living amongst them. Some folks are deeply impacted by this knowledge, while others could care less and just count the days until the ’hood is less dense with its original inhabitants. I can make a pretty easy guess at which category Huber falls into.

The writer may need to graduate from holding the door at the local Wawa to giving out free hoagies and milkshakes, as I cannot imagine any Black Philadelphia resident feeling too warm and fuzzy about his desire to start some cross-racial conversations. In the meantime, I hope he’s read the words of his White brethren who have dragged his work for the filth that it is across a number of local-based websites, including two responses on Philadelphia’s own blog (here and here) and a great takedown by the Philadelphia City Paper. All were written by White dudes, so I’m hoping that Huber can hear what they had to say.

No need to launch a petition against a publication that you probably don’t read regularly in the first place. Take Huber’s piece for what it is: a reminder of what contemporary racism so often looks like. Polite, discreet, even timid. Instead of reflecting on how profound the effects of structural racism can be, Huber toasts White “urban pioneers” (including a mom who dared to send her kindergartner to a good school with a largely Black population and rallies other White parents to follow suit), sympathizes with parents who complain about giving Halloween candy to poor Black kids who “come barely dressed up” and laments how badly he wishes he “could feel the freedom to speak to [his] African-American neighbors… about how the inner city needs to get its act together.”

Now that’s “real American” attitude, is it not?

Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com.

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