On Monday night, at the National Constitution Center, the solemn place where President Obama gave his powerful address on race, Philadelphians will gather for a follow-up dialog: Being White in Philly.
This, of course, refers to the recent magazine cover story by Philadelphia Magazine, which quoted unnamed European Americans about racial fears and beliefs. In it, we learn some whites fear crime, are skeptical that minorities are doing the right things to get ahead, and are unaware that in Philadelphia – a gateway to prosperity – the door is locked for many.
Really, did this come as a surprise to anyone?
Though the event is free, I had to go online to RSVP and get tickets. (I'll pick them up at will call.) As I reserved mine, my heart went out to all those Philadelphians without computers. They're getting left out and left behind, again.
It is sexy to pretend we are having deep conversations about race, but harder to talk about self-interest, which is driving political, cultural and class divisions. People fear that if someone else gets more, they will end up with less. Life is good as long as you are not the one pulling the short stick.
Over time, the people with closets full of short sticks eventually grow angry, and begin loud, disruptive conversations. Once the yelling begins, dialog is all about keeping the other guy from scoring big points. Listening and learning comes to a halt.
So two tips for my neighbors: 1. Don't yell. 2. Don't try to hide the fact that you are the one with all the advantages.
Let's imagine, for a moment, that Philadelphia is a world-class, economically inclusive city. Then, let's identify the steps each of us took to move the community forward. How did the business community (newsrooms included) transform itself and eliminate workplace bias? What did parents of school-age children do to promote discipline and learning? How did elected officials put aside differences and begin thinking like a team? What prompted journalists to stop placing blame and instead resolve to examine how their coverage, language and tone scars the city.
Monday night, let's resolve to advance Obamas conversation by forming a learning community. Let each person lucky enough to get tickets examine how he or she will change to serve the greater good. What will we do to make life better on Tuesday?
That is the character-building conversation we need to have.
Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter last week wrote a letter to the Human Relations Commission asking members to consider a rebuke of Philadelphia Magazine and the article's author. And this Tuesday, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will weigh in during a meeting with the magazine's editor.
Lots of mouths are moving, but so far I can't cite one thing we've learned or identify any meaningful change about our neighbors from this.