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White in Philly? What could be wrong with that?

  • Written by Linda S. Wallace

LindaSWallace-160Robert Huber recently penned a piece for Philadelphia Magazine with this memorable headline: "Being White in Philadelphia."

He covers many streets on the complex map that is race relations, yet this particular graph summed it up best for me:

"I've shared my view of North Broad Street with people – white friends and colleagues – who see something else there: New buildings. Progress. Gentrification. They're sunny about the area around Temple. I think they're blind, that they've stopped looking. Indeed, I've begun to think that most white people stopped looking around at large segments of our city, at our poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods, a long time ago. One of the reasons, plainly put, is queasiness over race. Many of those neighborhoods are predominantly African-American. And if you're white, you don't merely avoid them – you do your best to erase them from your thoughts."

Interestingly enough, the first poison darts to fly toward Mr. Huber are coming from the white community. A blog by Daniel Devir of City Paper summed up the article with these words, "Whites must criticize Blacks more." Hmmm.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with writing about the white experience or about European Americans' private beliefs. Most African Americans are never invited to the cocktail parties and halls of powers where such things are discussed, but still we pick up on it in a multitude of ways, as we walk the streets.

The lowered eyes, the fearful gestures, the lack of attention to our concerns and worries, says alot.

Huber exposes a simple truth that the City's journalists ignore far too often: Philadelphia is one town, sharing two distinct futures. One community is on the way down; the other is on the way up. One is multicultural, the other is predominantly white. One grapples with joblessness, crime, school closings and foreclosure, while the other focuses on building casinos, designing condos, reclaiming neighborhoods and crime.

Crime is the singular bridge that unites us. Increasingly, opportunity is a railroad track that keeps us from discovering one another or learning about the other side.

I, for one, would congratulate Mr. Huber for recognizing that the white experience exists, and that it should not be the only one journalists use in measuring the city, or explaining its challenges.

His article provides an opening for journalists to come together, not to fight, but to learn. Just as the city is segregated, so are many of our major newsrooms. So, journalists, schedule a meet-up. Share ideas. Examine how key issues are framed by mainstream media. Then review how differently those issues are framed by the African American, Hispanic and Asian press.

Don't be content to tell us what's wrong. Show this city what's possible. Lead.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Follow her at http://theculturalcoach.typepad.com/cultural_iq/)

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