Dear Ms. Simpson,
I would have liked to have responded to an actual email address, but there was none. So I am posting here in hopes that you will pick this up on a Google search and attempt to have a dialogue.
I read the Philadelphia Magazine article "Being White In Philly", and I thought it was a mild foray into a difficult area of discussion. The basic premise of the article is that whites get criticized when they publicly talk about race, so they just don't do it. Huber's article was an attempt to break that taboo, and it was done in a fairly mild way.
The article was truthful and told the story of race from a current white perspective. This is not the Jim Crow, 1940's white perspective. This is the 2013, racially-aware white young people perspective. These young people with young families have chosen to live in the city and to try and give their children a more multicultural and diverse perspective. However, they have come head to head with a crime-ridden city and, sad to say, much of that crime is in poor black neighborhoods. This is their personal experience. You cannot say that Bob at Krupa's Tavern is lying about being beaten up by two black males causing the busted pair of glasses that the journalist sees. You cannot say that Paul is lying about the young African American kid selling drugs. (This phenomenon of junior high kids dealing is all over US cities.)
The stories in the article were taken from real people. You can't disagree with their experience. You may dislike the implications, but you can't deny that their experiences existed.
Now let's look at your personal commentary for the Inquirer.
I can understand that you might not have responded with alacrity to the article, but, "lopsided, conflagrant...fear mongering" is just an unfair characterization of that article. May I ask if you read past page two? There were four pages, and there was the story of Jen, for example, who deliberately enrolled her white children in an all-black elementary school and is encouraging her white friends to do the same. Is that "fear mongering"? Later, the article devotes a chunk of space to Jen talking about her "lovely" experience with young black children at a public pool. Or how about Claire, who walks her dogs and doesn't have the same fears other whites do? Is that "lopsided"?"This month, I have the pleasure of representing a publication that felt the best way to spark a discourse about race was to feature a lopsided, conflagrant editorial - that teetered on the brink of fear mongering - as its cover story. At the crux of Bob Huber's story, "Being White in Philly," is the notion that black people are essentially what's wrong with the city, and that the white people who live here are afraid of them."
Or did you miss the second half of the article?
You treat the editor of Philadelphia Magazine in a similarly inaccurate fashion:
You make a connection that the editor may not have made based on his statement that "Being White in Philly" is "bookend" to an article about inner city violence. I cannot speak for "Welcome to Hell" since I have not read it, but I imagine it was great deal more pessimistic than "Being White in Philly.""In his editor's letter defending the decision to publish the article, editor Tom McGrath called it a "bookend" to "Welcome to Hell," a well-written expose by Steve Volk on the psychological impact of urban violence, published last September. Based on McGrath's juxtaposition of the two articles, are we to believe that being black in Philadelphia is akin to living in hell and being white in Philadelphia is, quite frankly, scary?"
Urban violence is a horrific thing, and I say this as someone who used to live in a gang area, had an undercover narcotics agent shot on the front doorstep of my apartment building, and came home to find the landlord hosing blood off the sidewalk. Yes, I moved out, and it had to do strictly with that incident, not with anyone's color. Once someone shoots at your apartment building, you don't really feel safe there anymore. "Welcome to Hell" seems a reasonable title when you have lived in such neighborhoods. Considering your privileged background--Quaker school, ballet classes, and, of course, college--you may not have lived in such places. I don't know. I have, and I know what it's like to hear gunshots at night when you're going to sleep. Welcome to hell indeed.
"Being White in Philly." on the other hand, is a mixed bag. There's some bad and some good. People get frustrated and angry when they are physically attacked (like Bob), threatened by drug dealers (like Ben), or deal with constant thefts (like John or the Fairmounters on page 2 of the story). But there are some people, like Jen and Claire, who find ways to make positive inroads and create bridging experiences. There is not a uniform thesis that "being white in Philly is scary" in this article. It is a balanced article that tries more to understand than to judge.
But then, I think you have a tendency to see things in a more extreme way. Your take on McGrath's comments here are clearly hyperbolic:
You're comparing McGrath to a 1950's Woolworth's in the Jim Crow South? Really? Zero to a hundred-sixty in four sentences. You need to take a breather."McGrath was asked what he planned to do about the lack of diversity on the magazine's editorial staff. His 134-character response included the following: "I'm open to pitches from writers of color." While it might not be fair to highlight a snippet out of context, in the land of 140 characters or less the message is loud and clear. If only Woolworth's had been open to allowing black people to look at the menu."
If it were truly a 1950's Woolworth's in the Jim Crow South, McGrath would have simply Tweeted that blacks would never write for his publication ever. That would be a true equivalent.
If you really have doubts about McGrath's sincerity, why don't you take him up on his offer? Come up with an idea and pitch it. Call his bluff, if you feel that's what you're doing. But don't accuse the man of wearing a sheet and fire-torching your front lawn until you know for sure. It's simply irresponsible.
And that, in fact, is the crux of Huber's argument in the article: when a white person says anything about race, anything at all, he or she is accused of racism without so much as a supporting detail. Huber ends "Being White in Philly" with "Am I allowed to say even that?" And that is the real problem. He's not allowed to say "that".
You, the mayor, and many others will join in the chorus of "Huber is racist!", "Philadelphia Magazine is racist!" just because some white Philadelphians were interviewed and gave their real experiences. Experiences, lived events. Not prejudices or preconceived notions about race. Real life experiences. There's a difference. I am certain that being the only black girl in your ballet class did not result in your being smashed against a wall, threatened by a drug-dealing ballet mom, or in having your car stolen. I'm guessing that your Quaker school was a pretty good one and that you were treated fairly. The Quakers are lovely people, and you were very lucky to go to that kind of school. I always wanted to go to a Quaker school but my family didn't have the money. Count your blessings.
You go on to say that Philadelphia Magazine has no right to talk about being white in Philadelphia because there are no black editors:
"McGrath states in his editor's letter that the appropriateness of Philadelphia Magazine tackling race was questioned. "Indeed, among our discussions was a debate about whether we - a magazine with exactly zero people of color on its full-time editorial staff - even had license to report and write on such a sensitive topic," he wrote.
The correct answer to that question is no. The all-white staff of a city magazine, a city whose black population makes up 44 percent of its residents, is ill-equipped to spearhead any kind of enlightened discussion about race. Why? Because its hiring practices have made it abundantly clear that black people and their opinions have no place in its discussions."
Your response is illogical here, as was the editors' hand-wringing. The editors solicit articles. Let's say they had accepted an article from a black writer about being black in Philly, would they have had the "license" to publish that? Would the article have been less legitimate because the editorial staff was white? If you wrote an article about race for them as a black woman, should they simply not publish it because they are white? If they offered to publish it, would you turn down the money and the exposure because of their "hiring practices"?
You state that because the editorial staff is white, they are "ill-equipped to spearhead any kind of enlightened discussion about race." So being white means never being able to talk about race in an enlightened way? Are you saying white people are incapable of enlightened discussion about race? Just by virtue of being white? (Be careful when you answer this one.) The more you write, the more you prove Huber's point: White people are not allowed to "say that". Huber was spot on.
Then you go on:
"And I don't just mean discussions about race. I mean discussions about Philly's best salons and boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs, playhouses and theaters; discussions about local politics, education, enterprise, and government. The magazine's positioning of itself as the voice of progressive racial discourse in Philly is the equivalent of Chris Brown being a marriage counselor or Lindsay Lohan being a sober living coach."
I think we've hit your sore spot here. Have you tried to get some of your sports articles published by Philadelphia Magazine? Have they turned you down? Your friends? You don't explain this, and then you dive right into a hyperbolic statement about Chris Brown and Lindsay Lohan. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the reason Philadelphia Magazine hasn't taken any of your writing is that it's hyperbolic and a little disorganized. Just a thought.
Now, we move on:
Anything that shows the experiences of real people in society has journalistic value and is a legitimate topic for an article based on interviews with people in the midst of the experience. If you had read the article, you would also understand that (a) the fears were rational and (b) more than one person had them. There were quite a number of white people interviewed for that article. Once again, did you actually read the article? Finally, this is not the same narrative that has been "repeated for centuries." This is quite a different narrative. The white people in the article are not 1950's era Jim Crow racists. Many have chosen to stay in the city instead of fleeing to safer suburbs because they have a far different perspective and want their children to grow up with diversity. And yet, despite their good intentions, they get assaulted, threatened, burgled, in the very diverse neighborhoods they were attracted to. I will also add something the article does not: there are plenty of middle class black residents in Philly who also get assaulted, threatened and burgled. Poverty and violence affects everyone who tries to live decently. Everyone should be allowed to talk about it--honestly."Obviously I disagree with Tom McGrath about the journalistic value of "Being White." The irrational fears and misguided logic of one white person are not a story. There is nothing novel in the sentiments that Huber expressed, and that other white Philadelphians anonymously endorsed. It's a narrative that has been repeated for centuries. The difference is that most respectable and responsible publications have evolved to the point where they would not give a platform to these statements without offering a counterbalanced perspective."
You end with two paragraphs. The first:
Once again, did you read the article? Really read it? And how can one be "fearful, kowtowing, door-holding" (all subservient behaviors) and then "racists" (which implies beliefs in one's racial superiority). They are contradictory stances. How do these go together in your mind? And where do Jen and Claire fit in this overgeneralized description?"The real losers here are not black people. We're used to being marginalized and maligned. It's actually white Philadelphians who should be angry that a publication claiming to speak to them and for them has characterized them as fearful, kowtowing, door-holding racists. Having lived in Philadelphia for 13 years - and having frequented the same Wawa on Germantown Avenue that Huber writes about..."
Then, the second:
Guess, what: so are you."Bob Huber seems fixated on what white people are allowed to say about black people."
Your entire article is premised on the belief that white people have no license to talk about race, write about race, or have any enlightened thoughts about race. You prove Huber's point over and over again. Your knee-jerk reaction to Huber's article and McGrath's editorial staff is "Shut up about race! Your experiences are not legitimate."
You end with a slap at Huber himself:
"Some would say he risked a lot in his quest to find out. Well, I have no idea what black employees are allowed to say about being black at Philly Mag, but I guess it's time I find out. I'll let you know who took the bigger risk."
So you think that a black employee talking about race to his (college educated liberal) boss at Philly Magazine is taking a bigger risk than Huber is by putting himself out there as a racial lightning rod?
Already, Huber has been the target of Mayor Nutter, who is demanding investigations and the last names of the people interviewed. He has been a target of your hyberbolic opinion piece which, somehow, made its way into the pages of the Inquirer. Let's wait and see what happens when MSNBC gets a hold of it.
I imagine Huber will have to worry about a great deal more than a tired sigh or slight rebuke from an editor.
And, if I tell you I worry for the safety of him and his family, would you call me a racist?
Or am I not allowed to talk about that?