‘Being White’ story draws backlash

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

“And there is a point that can be made that we don’t, that without any people of color on our staff and that without that perspective we really cannot write intelligently about this, and, I understand that point of view; I disagree with it alternately and it was one of the reasons we decided to run this: I think that regardless of the makeup of our staff, I think that white people have thoughts and feelings about race. Whether they’re deeply offensive thoughts and views, like a couple of the people in Bob’s story have, or whether they are very empathetic views, as a couple of the other people in the story have, I think that we don’t do any favors by pretending that things don’t exist.

“So, I think part of our point in this is to talk about what’s actually out there and then maybe we can go forward in terms of having a better conversation about this. In terms of our own editorial staff, we should have more perspectives of color in our pages and on our website. I’m aware of that and hopefully we can start to address it in some way.”

Huber, however, remained unfazed. “There is no friction,” he said. “I’m OK with my colleagues and what they have to say, and how they feel is utterly legitimate. You know, my piece is about conversation and dialogue, and let’s hear what people really think. So with that spirit, let’s all talk. We decided to do a piece that looked at, from the view of white people, what’s their engagement with Black folk and how’s it going for them and what is it? So, obviously it was a conscious decision to do that.”

Asked if this article’s use of race is to influence sales, Huber says, “I don’t think it’s race baiting and I certainly do not think it’s pandering. That’s certainly not the goal of the attempt; and I don’t think that’s what the piece is. What I was trying to do is to hear legitimate thoughts and feelings from white people.

“I mean I do think that Philadelphia in many ways was — largely is a segregated city — I think whites talk to white; and Blacks talk to Blacks. Now, of course that’s not utterly true but it’s generally true, and that those conversations are different from the conversations that whites and Blacks have with each other. So, I was hoping to unearth some real thoughts and feelings from white folks by hanging out in Fairmount and talking to people and seeing what I could learn.

“That was the goal, and that’s what I did and that’s what the piece is about. Now, did people say some things that are controversial, edgy or even possibly racist? Yeah. But that’s what they said, and so to be true to that – there it is. The goal there is not to bait anybody or to pander, but to present this cross-section of people, and this is what came out when I asked them.”

University of Pennsylvania professor Walter Palmer has taught the foundation courses of American Racism and Institutional Racism and Social Change since 1990, and wholeheartedly agreed with Huber. “I think he nailed it,” said Palmer. “All he simply did was record people he had interviewed. The reality is Philadelphia is racially divided, and it always has been, and it’s never faced the fact that it is racially divided. The fact that Philadelphia is largely African-American or Black now is irrelevant; it is still many people in the seat of power who are not Black (even though you get a lot of Black faces in a lot of places), and that most people, particularly white people, are in denial, and many Black people need white affirmation. Many Black people, particularly middle-class Black people for the most part, don’t want to offend white people—and so the lies are perpetuated by both cultures under the guise of political correctness.”