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‘Being White’ story draws backlash

Bobbi Booker Philadelphia Tribune | 4/1/2013, 4:26 a.m.

(NNPA) The hot button topic of race became a subject of hot debate this week in Philadelphia, with the article “Being White in Philly” by Philadelphia Magazine’s writer-at-large Robert Huber. The story, told solely from a white point of view, immediately drew a firestorm of complaints, especially when the magazine’s editor Tom McGrath wrote, “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.”

“This month’s Philadelphia Magazine cover story is just another example of an ongoing attack on Black Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “Considering the recent census, African Americans could continue to hold political power for years to come, but if they remain economically disadvantaged, they will never be full partners or independent.”

Tasco made her remarks during a long speech Thursday on the floor of council chambers in which she lambasted several local media outlets for what she said appeared to be a concerted campaign against African Americans. Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Maria Quinones Sanchez echoed Tasco.

Bass blasted Philadelphia Magazine, though she refused to say its name out loud – charging that “There is no one on your editorial board who is African American. So, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re talking about race if you’re not talking to different people. You need to be able to dialogue with different people.”

Across the Philadelphia media landscape, the backlash was equally swift. The story drew national criticism from Richard Prince’s Jorunalisms and local online news site “Philebrity,” which offered this added criticism, “To make matters even worse, PhillyMag pulled a classic PhillyMag move with this issue: They printed two covers, one with Huber’s article on the front, and another with M. Night Shyamalan’s wife, Bhavna Vaswani, for the hospitality industry — the idea being that (probably correctly) hotel visitors in Philly would rather not be troubled with PhillyMag’s fairly consistent history of classism and racism, writ large on the cover once and for all.”

“Huber’s article was a poor display of civic journalism on many fronts; and irresponsible in its action of race baiting,” said Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists president Johann Calhoun. “However, one of the most disturbing facts that has surfaced is that Philadelphia Magazine has no minority journalists working full-time on its staff.

“There’s no way a majority-white newsroom covering a majority-minority landscape such as Philadelphia can call itself providing objective coverage.”

Members of Philly mag’s staff also fumed. “Why I Hope You Won’t Read ‘Being White in Philly’ – The story is racist,” wrote magazine staff writer Steve Volk in a bitter response. Several other writers posted similar online responses.

In response, McGrath spoke at length about resolving the magazine’s lack of diversity. “We actually spent a long time talking about whether we had license to write about race with a staff that is all white,” explained McGrath. “Are we even allowed to, sort of, talk about the subject?