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Being White in (West) Philly
March 15, 2013 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Amidst the outrage generated by the Being White in Philly article, a 22 year old West Philly native gives her own account of what it's like. She is perhaps looking through rose-colored glasses, considering she grew up just blocks from one of the top 10 drug corners in the city.
posted by DoubleLune (73 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
We can probably get Mac, Dennis and Charlie to weigh in...
posted by microm3gas at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying that Cedar Park is 'just blocks' from 52nd and Market is kind of misleading in that it is about a mile away.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I read it right, she grew up at 49th and something, which is 5-6 blocks away.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2013


I used to go to that Wawa in Mt. Airy almost every day... gawd... that was a crazy neighborhood. Talk about a big difference from my previous home in Portland, OR....
posted by ph00dz at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2013


Also, I have no idea how someone can honestly describe themselves as middle class, when their mother has a MBA from Wharton and they attended Friends Select and Central.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


According to Gregory Bucceroni, a captain with Men United for a Better Philadelphia, cries of "Wet! Wet!" alert passers-by to the opportunity to buy weed soaked in embalming fluid.

Well there's someone that knows nothing about the drug trade.
posted by ryanrs at 12:40 PM on March 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I know virtually nothing about W.Philadelphia. Is it really that bad? Comparable to any parts of NYC (a city I know very well)?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 12:41 PM on March 15, 2013


I have no idea how someone can honestly describe themselves as middle class

Easy: they know people both richer and poorer than they are. Ergo, they're middle class.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


No. Cedar Park, and the area on Baltimore Ave up until about 50th street, and the area around Clark Park are all quite nice. Farther west, and the neighborhoods north of Market St. can get very, very bad.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:46 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the second article, "While checking we were told whom we should be keeping an eye on for stealing. Race was never stated outright, was it inferred? Definitely. What was stated out right was that we should not forget to keep an eye on the well-to-do looking Penn students"
...
Well, she may or may not be middle class, but it looks like she screwed up imply/infer.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:54 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I didn't think the Being White in Philly article was as rage-inducing as I thought it'd be... those comments are pretty nonsensical though
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found it strange that the White In Philly article started out with examples that demonstrated how black folks overreacted, misinterpreted or otherwise blew out of proportion the actions of "good" white people.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:00 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


examples that demonstrated how black folks overreacted, misinterpreted or otherwise blew out of proportion the actions of "good" white people

That is hilarious.
posted by rtha at 1:03 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to Gregory Bucceroni, a captain with Men United for a Better Philadelphia, cries of "Wet! Wet!" alert passers-by to the opportunity to buy weed soaked in embalming fluid.

Well there's someone that knows nothing about the drug trade.

It's not the most common thing but it happens and I've seen it happen. I've also seen the idea take form: college kid with access to extra lab materials takes a bottle or two of formaldehyde or ether home, starts the process of kidnapping their own selves, smokes weed to come down and feel normal, sleeps it off then thinks, why not combine the two? Science, right?

Me, I like my brain but I can understand it if it's what it takes to get you through the day. Never was my place to recommend therapy and not really theirs in being capable of affording it but I suppose that is life.
posted by dubusadus at 1:04 PM on March 15, 2013


People still smoke sherm? Use sherm? What is the verb of sherming?
posted by josher71 at 1:05 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shattering insights from a 22 year old. Gee whiz.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:06 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to Gregory Bucceroni, a captain with Men United for a Better Philadelphia, cries of "Wet! Wet!" alert passers-by to the opportunity to buy weed soaked in embalming fluid.

Well there's someone that knows nothing about the drug trade.
It's not the most common thing but it happens and I've seen it happen.


I think the problem here though is that "wet"/"water" refers to PCP, not embalming fluid.
posted by invitapriore at 1:10 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


People still smoke sherm? Use sherm? What is the verb of sherming?

First reddit meetup I ever went to this high school kid kept telling us these stories about the time he and his friends were smoking sherm. One of his stories involved sticking his foot in the fire they had going then running outside and jumping into the snow before repeating the process again, sort of like an insane, self-harming hokey pokey.

I'm not sure how true his story was but he sure did have a lot of them. Didn't really go to another reddit meetup again but I hear they've gotten a lot tamer since then.

On preview/edit: I've heard of wet just meaning lacing weed with anything (presumably making it wet) but then again I didn't hang out with any lifelong drug users who could be bothered to differentiate between them. I suppose I don't know much about the drug trade either, then!
posted by dubusadus at 1:11 PM on March 15, 2013


Dubusadus, "wet" and "embalming fluid" are both slang for PCP, which our reporter did not seem to recognize. I mean seriously, you think they're selling formaldehyde on street corners in Philly?
posted by ryanrs at 1:11 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well there's someone that knows nothing about the drug trade.

make that two of us- I don't think it actually is formaldehyde/"embalming fluid", but it's marijuana with PCP, i.e. boat or sherm, which definitely is a thing. Erowid claims that "embalming fluid" was a nickname for PCP at one time, and it's possible that confused fuckups actually started dipping marijuana in formaldehyde to make "wet". "Wet" has been around at least a decade.
posted by Challahtronix at 1:12 PM on March 15, 2013


Yet there’s a dance I do when I go to the Wawa on Germantown Avenue. I find myself being overly polite. Each time I hold the door a little too long for a person of color, I laugh at myself, both for being so self-consciously courteous and for knowing that I’m measuring the thank-you’s.

Oh my god just get your hoagie and solipsism and go, they probably just really need coffee too.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:13 PM on March 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


So I had to do my own research to find out what the "outrage" over the Being White in Philly article was, and when the breadcrumbs led back to Philly Mag's other contributers denouncing the article, it was pretty enlightening.

Not the denouncements, which were pretty much what one might expect, but the comments sections, which are... rabid. Serious, bone-rattling rage across the board, and close enough to unanimous that it's kind of freaky. It scans like what you see in the more cranked-up MRM forums, but with grievously wronged white people venting their howling anguish instead of aggrieved men.

I'm used to right-wing rants on message boards -- that's the Internet! -- but the unanimity of these has set me back on my heels a bit. Is this at all representative of the feelings of the City of Brotherly Love, or has a small cadre of fanatical Klan members made Philly Magazine their project of the week, or what?
posted by Shepherd at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first article only mentioned former police chief (is that right?) and mayor Frank Rizzo in passing, but if I know my city history right, a lot of black people grew up under his regime of fear and brutality. To the extent that he is still a "hero" in South Philly, one with his own mural, there are a lot of scars from that alone, which the city will have to deal with over the next few decades. That's not counting race riots in the 60s and former mayor Goode dropping a fire bomb on a West Philly city block in the 1980s, as his way of dealing with the people who were part of the MOVE organization. There's a lot of back story that neither article really addresses.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:17 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


the unanimity of these has set me back on my heels a bit

Outside of Metafilter and Ta-nehisi Coates' blog, the comments on any Internet post or article about race are enough to make me wish Lord Shiva would just go ahead and do his dance so that the universe can start over.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


Is this at all representative of the feelings of the City of Brotherly Love, or has a small cadre of fanatical Klan members made Philly Magazine their project of the week, or what?

The mayor spoke about it.

"Being in Philly," an event supposedly being help as a direct response to the article.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2013


That's why I moved to Bel Air.
posted by w0mbat at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Not the denouncements, which were pretty much what one might expect, but the comments sections, which are... rabid. Serious, bone-rattling rage across the board, and close enough to unanimous that it's kind of freaky. It scans like what you see in the more cranked-up MRM forums, but with grievously wronged white people venting their howling anguish instead of aggrieved men.

I read Eschaton (Duncan Black/Atrios) whose writer is based in Philly and he occasionally calls out the local papers' comment sections for this kind of thing.

The Being White in Philly article is worth a lot of thought. I'm not sure how I feel about it other than uncomfortable, which is probably about right.
posted by immlass at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2013


MisantropicPainforest: "Also, I have no idea how someone can honestly describe themselves as middle class, when their mother has a MBA from Wharton and they attended Friends Select and Central."

The same way "Middle Class" is defined as anywhere from 30k to 200k in a household if not more... The way Republicans hoodwink Americans into thinking the Great American Dream is a reality and members of the top 5% are "middle class". They are talking "Bourgeois Culture", not actual prosperity. The great melting pot is "the middle class" conform and you, too, are middle class., regardless of how much you actually earn or own.

The same way they stopped using the word "Working Class" and started using "Middle Class" as a way to lump the classes together so we all live under the illusion of this great and mighty equality. That's how.
posted by symbioid at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


The problem with the original article was that it took a paternalistic tone all too common with whites and race relations in America in general. Philadelphia has a long history of racism, not on the level of Boston, but certainly no small potatoes. It's why certain public works project, such as any expansion of SEPTA's rapid transit system, have been repeatedly shot down, so that people in the Northeast part of town can avoid having "those people" move into the neighborhood. It's another straw on the back of a terribly burdened camel.
posted by SansPoint at 1:31 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first article only mentioned former police chief (is that right?) and mayor Frank Rizzo in passing, but if I know my city history right, a lot of black people grew up under his regime of fear and brutality. To the extent that he is still a "hero" in South Philly, one with his own mural, there are a lot of scars from that alone, which the city will have to deal with over the next few decades. That's not counting race riots in the 60s and former mayor Goode dropping a fire bomb on a West Philly city block in the 1980s, as his way of dealing with the people who were part of the MOVE organization. There's a lot of back story that neither article really addresses.

Both this article and the Being White in Philly article are intended for people who live in and around the Philadelphia area. Most of us know about MOVE because every outside continually reminds us about it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:32 PM on March 15, 2013


ryanrs: "Dubusadus, "wet" and "embalming fluid" are both slang for PCP, which our reporter did not seem to recognize. I mean seriously, you think they're selling formaldehyde on street corners in Philly?"

So I do a fair amount of work with folks who use drugs (mostly heroin 'cause, after all, this is Kensington), and I've asked a number of my patients about smoking "wet". Coming from these discussions, my understanding is that "wet" in Philly is not the same as "wet" elsewhere; here in Philly, "wet" really can mean marijuana soaked in formaldehyde (sometimes PCP as well).

For the folks who only trust peer-reviewed research, here's a case series from Jefferson's Pulmonology Department detailing two cases of lung injury sustained after smoking wet and making the important point that "[p]ulmonary complications have rarely been reported in association with PCP use," implying that lung injury as seen in these two patients would likely not have been caused by PCP.

That all said, I haven't personally seen any patients who admitted to smoking wet. Heroin, coke, and crack are so cheap around here that most people in search of a thrill greater than plain old pot will go with one of those three standards (or, increasingly, prescription opioids). As you move west into the more rural parts of Pennsylvania, though, you'll see increased usage of things like meth and bath salts.
posted by The White Hat at 1:39 PM on March 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


God, I miss The Straightener.
posted by klangklangston at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


God, I miss The Straightener.

Me, too. Hope he's well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2013


I wish to represent South Philly and say that we are definitely classy.
posted by orme at 2:00 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of, he wrote his own response to the Philly Mag piece.
posted by gladly at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ha, I was going to link to that piece by The (former) Straightener, but someone beat me to the punch. It's far and away my favorite of the many reactions I've seen to the Being White mess.

This bit in particular really nails it:

My father never had any problem expressing himself on sensitive issues; frankly, the idea that the voices of white people in Philadelphia expressing racial grievance aren’t getting amplified loudly enough is patently delusional. White people in my father’s generation and like-minded types, men particularly, in generations behind them dominate Internet conversation on race the same way they dominate every conversation they have, ever. Philadelphia like every other major city desperately needs a broader representation of voices in its media landscape; more women’s voices, more queer voices, more black, Latino and Asian voices. The fact that Philadelphia is so poor, and so black and so stacked with so many challenges particularly affecting poor neighborhoods only accentuates the immediate need for a leveling of the media playing field so that the honest dialog the Philly Mag story purports to kick off can actually happen.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


Well, she may or may not be middle class, but it looks like she screwed up imply/infer.

This is a stretch, but maybe she was using the passive voice to say she inferred that the managers were talking about people of a certain race?

The comma splice bothered me more.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:30 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, the first commenter has my blood boiling. Based solely on his/her personal experience, s/he "guarantees" that a white kid who goes to a majority black school will "have MAJOR issues for the rest of their lives." Ridiculous. I started out at a majority black public school, not 74% black, more like 95% black, where I was perfectly happy...and then my parents sent me to an all-white private Christian school. After two years there I begged them to send me back to the public school, because the all-white private Christian school was traumatizing, believe me. I have never regretted this decision, and I'm so happy that I have parents who let me decide for myself which school I wanted to attended.

Just the idea that --horror of horrors! -- a white kid surrounded by black kids will be inevitably be ostracized is...ugh! Words fail me. Lots of people go to schools where they aren't in the racial majority. Is it difficult sometimes? Sure...any kind of difference can create tension when you're in school. Does it lead to inevitable persecution? No.

Jesus! If you continue to follow this person's logic it means that 1) black people are ALWAYS going to gang up on white people whenever they have the chance (RACIST) or 2) people of X race are always going to gang up on Y race if they have the chance, which I guess means that we should only go to school where everyone is exactly the same, separately but equally (RACIST). This person is freaking racist. And I am really pissed about it.
posted by duvatney at 2:33 PM on March 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


It's funny I grew up in Jersey and as a teenage punk in the 80's would hang out in some rough areas to see shows, visit friends in college etc.. Places like Trenton (Punk shows at City Gardens), Lower East Side NYC (CBGB's, Bleeker Bob's Records, ability to drink a beer from a bodega at 16, etc...) Jersey City (Friends at St. Petes), New Brunswick (Friends at Rutgers), never fazed me.

Philly was different though, when we would see bands or just go to hang out, my friends and I agreed, there always seemed this uneasy air to the place. It was like everyone in the city, black, white, asian, hispanic wanted to kick your ass.
posted by remo at 2:43 PM on March 15, 2013


My personal pet theory is that this article was deliberately timed to cause a massive-shit storm and draw attention away from the fact that Philadelphia is about to close a massive number of schools, a disproportionate number of which are in those North Philadelphia neighborhoods that Robert Huber is so scared of.

If you want to start an "honest" dialogue about race in Philly, starting with the fact that the systematic loss of opportunities for poor people of color begins at pre-school and kindergarten wouldn't hurt.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:47 PM on March 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


There is a fuck-ton of difference from University City, or wherever she is, and West Philly proper.

One of my students in West Philly proper was writing about the urban decay on her block, which is not a good block. She described in great detail the agony and the ecstasy of crack heads day and night. She also wrote about a cat carcass was left to rot until all that was left was its teeth, as if, the student wrote, it were screaming at her. It was a really good essay. She is also a total handful. If she makes it out of that neighborhood, she's going to be great.
posted by angrycat at 3:04 PM on March 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


zomg the fucking wets

kids in my class were like, 'weed makes you hallucinate' and I was like, what you all smokin. Turns out they were talking about wets. I was like THAT'S PCP
posted by angrycat at 3:06 PM on March 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


anyway, now that I've RTFAs, all I have to say is that the poor in the city are being mightily shat upon by what's happening in the school district and the lack of investment. Thanks, Corbett administration!
posted by angrycat at 3:17 PM on March 15, 2013


what's happening in the school district

It's too bad that the fifth-largest city shutting down public schools for budget reasons didn't get more national attention. That seems like the kind of story that should get a bit more airtime.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:27 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


My father never had any problem expressing himself on sensitive issues; frankly, the idea that the voices of white people in Philadelphia expressing racial grievance aren’t getting amplified loudly enough is patently delusional.

Yeah this is just so dead on. I mean, philly.com's comments are a writhing, seething mess of hatred in terms of racial commentary, essentially regardless of the story. Writing an article about new developments or zoning? Be sure to focus on the changes in young urban professional lives, and not the disruptions to neighborhood patterns or problems with the school district and the kids that already live there. There are occasional breaks in the pattern-- I remember a really fascinating article on Iraqi refugee resettlement in one of the weeklies-- but in general, the voices you hear about and the stories you hear about are the effects on the business community and changes in the demographics towards the young, urban, white professionals.

Mainly this is reminding me that it's been four days since I've been to Wawa which is basically an eternity. I'm coming, muffins!
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:28 PM on March 15, 2013


Speaking of, he wrote his own response to the Philly Mag piece.

From that piece:
this was the main problem I had with Philly Mag’s story, whose central contention is that whites are afraid to talk about how blacks have wrecked this city with their criminality and irresponsibility.
That is not a very fair characterization of the piece's thesis.
posted by yoink at 3:42 PM on March 15, 2013


She also wrote about a cat carcass was left to rot until all that was left was its teeth, as if, the student wrote, it were screaming at her. It was a really good essay.

Damn, I'd like to read that essay, angrycat. Also, eponysterical.
posted by duvatney at 4:25 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


> If you want to start an "honest" dialogue about race in Philly, starting with the fact that the systematic loss of
> opportunities for poor people of color begins at pre-school and kindergarten wouldn't hurt.

Nobody actually wants an honest dialogue about race in Philly or anywhere, which is why there hasn't been one. Group A just wants to explain to group B how the A's are good non-racist people, which group B doesn't want to listen to. Group B just wants the A's to sit and listen repentantly while the B's unpack their invisible backpacks for them, which group A doesn't want to listen to. Everybody's actual idea of a dialogue is "You listen while I tell you how it is." To break an impasse like that you'll have to start by putting on your robes and wizard hat.
posted by jfuller at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Two comments:

On being just blocks away from 52nd and Market: the type of neighborhood you're in can really vary from street to street and block to block. the second article's author grew up in a completely different neighborhood than 52nd and Market. i had friends who live much closer to 52nd and Market than that and are still in a fairly decent neighborhood.

I have personally heard UPenn students say that they were told at freshman orientation not to go west of 40th Street. Which, as someone who lived west of 40th St, made me kind of happy.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:34 PM on March 15, 2013


[Metacommentary goes in MetaTalk, thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:55 PM on March 15, 2013


Everybody's actual idea of a dialogue is "You listen while I tell you how it is."

Ayup. One reason I'm so tired of hearing calls for dialogue is that they're so often thinly-disguised demands for attention to a monologue.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:12 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]



Just the idea that --horror of horrors! -- a white kid surrounded by black kids will be inevitably be ostracized is...ugh! Words fail me. Lots of people go to schools where they aren't in the racial majority. Is it difficult sometimes? Sure...any kind of difference can create tension when you're in school. Does it lead to inevitable persecution? No.


Thank you for your perspective. My sister recently moved to an inner city neighborhood and enrolled in a local community college. In two of her classes, she's the only white student out of about 25 students. I think at first it was difficult for her. She's in a sociology class, and unlike the author of Being White in Philly, she has no qualms about talking about race, and she's never afraid to say the wrong thing (her best and worst quality). At first her participation in discussions of race earned her the name "White Girl Rich" from a small number of her classmates; essentially there were some people who wanted to discount her opinion on everything because she would never "get it." Of course, she never will fully "get it" in the way that no white person who grew up with two working parents in the 'burbs will ever "get it." It's not her classmates' job to educate her about privilege if/when she sticks her foot in her mouth. But certainly that doesn't mean that she is never permitted to make a comment about race. (Note: the few critics softened when they discovered she was on food stamps and lived in the poorest part of town).

I say all this to illustrate that discussions about race are really hard, and sometimes people avoid them in a way that, on a larger scale, stands in the way of progress. And in that tiny way, the Philly Mag article is corret. That being said, Being White in Philly wasn't an attempt to talk about race, it was a thinly veiled argument about why black people make Philly less safe. Huber is writing about and for people who don't think it's ok to describe someone as black, or when they do say someone is black, they have to add a qualifier like, "not like it makes a difference." He posits that it would be beneficial for white people to have the courage to talk to black people about things that "seem" to be about race. But he would no sooner do that than he "would stand out on the sidewalk some Saturday and ask a neighbor how much money he has in the bank." But what is stopping him? Personally, my theory, and I think it's quite plain from the article, is that he actually does hold black people, as a monolothic whole, to be responsible for the city's problems. In his mind, approaching a black person -- let alone the black community -- to talk about safety would be tantamount to calling them no good lazy drug dealers. Because that's what he thinks.
posted by murfed13 at 8:34 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's with the Philly mag cover? The masthead being engulfed in the rising tide blackness and the angry white title in caps? Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think it sets the wrong tone for an article that's all too easy to misunderstand. It's not a piece about whites being a prisoner in "their own" city, but about the seething resentment that results from repressing any talk of race. In a new millennium and with a black man in the White House it's easy to think that an equality of races has been achieved. Meanwhile, blacks and whites in places like Philly are obviously experiencing the opposite; feeling the frustration of living a life that doesn't fit into the narrative of all the races given equal opportunity and living in friendly coexistence. It seems that a lot of people are taking the article as justification for their opinions, where as I think the author's intention was to explain why these feelings have been allowed to ferment.
posted by quosimosaur at 8:56 PM on March 15, 2013


Meanwhile, blacks and whites in places like Philly are obviously experiencing the opposite; feeling the frustration of living a life that doesn't fit into the narrative of all the races given equal opportunity and living in friendly coexistence.


Actually, we have no idea how black people are feeling because Huber didn't bother to ask them. It's an article about white people well-meaningness and black people hypersentitivity from the viewpoint of white people. It's really not accurate to describe it as a balanced article about racial tension.

It's not a piece about whites being a prisoner in "their own" city, but about the seething resentment that results from repressing any talk of race

Perhaps. But this "repression" is rooted in the fact (apparent from the article) that some people don't understand that there's a difference between talking about race and saying something racist.
posted by murfed13 at 9:13 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems that a lot of people are taking the article as justification for their opinions, where as I think the author's intention was to explain why these feelings have been allowed to ferment.

Except that people haven't been letting those feelings ferment. Go to any white working-class area in Philly (and there are still a good number of 'em), and you will hear more than your share of people's "feelings" about race. See also the article that gladly linked above.

This seems as good a time as any to link to my other favorite response to this debacle, by the inimitable Ta-Nehisi Coates. Excerpt:

You can write beautifully about the reaction to LeBron James and "The Decision." You can write beautifully about integrating your local high school. You can write gorgeously about the Underground Railroad. But you can never write beautifully about the fact of race, anymore than you can write beautifully about the fact of hillsides.

I got curious after reading the aforementioned link from gladly, googled the author (Jeff Deeney, formerly known as The Straightener 'round these parts), and proceeded to spend all night reading his past columns instead of polishing my resume. I regret nothing. Go take a read for some seriously high-quality writing that is not about the fact of race but is very much about race in Philadelphia.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:04 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know virtually nothing about W.Philadelphia. Is it really that bad?

Depends on where in West Philly you're talking about. I used to take the Frankford/Market El from City Hall to 69th Street terminal twice a day. From where it emerges above ground at about 40th street most of the way to 69th, both North & South sides of Market Street look positively post-apocalyptic. Whole blocks boarded up or full of gapingly empty rowhomes where you can see through the missing windows into gutted, crumbling interiors. And don't forget the showcase of the trip, the founding chapter of the Wheels of Soul outlaw biker gang (who are apparenty racially integrated) at 61st & Market. As necessary as it is, it seems to me that the El is probably West Philly's biggest source of blight. As you leave the El behind, north or south, the level of abandoned property drops away.
posted by scalefree at 10:05 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


While we're discussing the history of racism in Philadelphia, let me introduce you all to Redlining, a process by which whites effectively conspired at a societal level to control where minorities were allowed to own property, which lasted for decades. Maybe somebody wants to make an FPP about that? I bet it'd be a pretty good one.
posted by scalefree at 10:23 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was pretty amused by the belief that the opinion of a person from Moscow offers some kind of clear-eyed unbiased view of what's really going on here. Russia is so full of horrible overt shameless racism you're often shocked by what comes out of people's mouths. I suppose it's indicative of a bigger problem with the first article, the idea that people start out as "clean slates" and only become racist through the school of hard knocks.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:48 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's really not accurate to describe it as a balanced article about racial tension.

It's not supposed to be an all encompassing article about racial tension. I mean, it's called "Being White in Philly" for a reason. While I think the author covers some worthwhile ground, I'd agree that to have such a long cover story only interested in white peoples' perspectives is pretty dismissive of black people. I had a problem with the magazine cover design, but now I realise the actual problem was in deciding that this article was a cover story in the first place, but I still think the problem is one of framing, rather than the written piece itself.

Go to any white working-class area in Philly (and there are still a good number of 'em), and you will hear more than your share of people's "feelings" about race.

Sure, people are talking about this when they're comfortable in their own communities; that's the issue. When there's no relevant public discourse people end up trapped in their segregation venting the same racist opinions as their parents and their parents' parents.
posted by quosimosaur at 11:22 PM on March 15, 2013


I gave up on the second article after four paragraphs--too many cliches, grammatical errors, and misused words. Life's too short to waste on bad writing, which is one of the reasons I come to Metafilter instead of 4chan.

I no longer have much tolerance for people who write at a seventh grade level. If someone writes like an airhead, it's reasonably certain that her ideas are equally lame.
posted by bcarter3 at 11:59 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, people are talking about this when they're comfortable in their own communities; that's the issue. When there's no relevant public discourse people end up trapped in their segregation venting the same racist opinions as their parents and their parents' parents.


The article would have been so much more interesting if it tackled this idea. (I know you aren't directly talking about the article in this comment, but still). Which brings me to THE serious problem with this piece. Huber never actually acknowledged that the people and the beliefs he cited were racist. He said that people are worried about "seeming" racist when they talk about race. Maybe he intended the racism to be so obvious that he didn't need to explicitly identify it. But that's completely at odds with his conclusion, which is that white people should talk to black people more even though they are afraid black people will be offended by what they say. (It's also completely at odds with his apparent hope to encourage more openness). Nowhere in that article was there any indication that he thought the purpose of public discourse was to wash out festering racism.

The more I think about this article the crazier it makes me. How, exactly, does he expect to engender a conversation about race with an article that refuses to call out transparent racism? Is he trying to make white people feel ok about being a little bit racist? Does he think that will lessen the fear of offending black people and open up a discussion?
posted by murfed13 at 12:02 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live at 52nd Street a few blocks south of Market. People are super-friendly, kids play on the block regularly, it is not as rough as if you go farther past 52nd or into way North Philly. I will say the area has gentrified a LOT in the past few years I've been here. A little while ago they tore down the overhanging awnings that formed the basis of the 52nd St open-air market, pretty much a direct "fuck you" to people who have been living there and getting cheap wares from the area for years. And around the corner from me there is a now crepes and espresso place, for Chrissake. It is weird and this process is definitely changing the character of the area. I don't really like it. I see all the older elderly black people who used to be my neighbors being replaced by young white families and art students.

"Being White in Philly" is a shitshow and made me feel embarrassed for all white Philadelphians everywhere. This response has a good kernel of an idea, but damn, somebody give this girl an editor.
posted by schroedinger at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2013


I've spent a fair amount of time on Baltimore Avenue west of Clark Park, and anyone who doesn't go west of 40th St is missing out on some great Ethiopian food. Of course, I've gone to a bar with someone around 50th and Baltimore as they told me that when they lived a few blocks away someone was shot outside their house so there's that.

Any liberal streak in it aside, Philadelphia can sometimes be a Southern city that happens to be in the North, in terms of race relations. That's the best way I've heard it described.
posted by graymouser at 10:53 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Any liberal streak in it aside, Philadelphia can sometimes be a Southern city that happens to be in the North, in terms of race relations. That's the best way I've heard it described.

Um, I'm from the South. I really don't like Philly being described in this way. Its racism is its own. Don't shuffle it off on the South.

Honestly, the idea that white Northern liberals are less racist (at least towards black people) than white Southern conservatives is a really bizarre one to me. I mean, maybe I would think the same thing if I didn't grow up here, and only read about the South in books or on the Internet, and didn't know what it was like in my community nowadays. Is there racism? Sure. There's racism everywhere. But it's hardly fraught in the way that people might think given the South's history.

If you're a white person who lives and works and socializes with black people, as many white people in the South do, I think you're a lot less likely to form racist stereotypes than someone from Vermont for whom black people less a lived reality than a concept. Or someone who lives in a Northern city where black people are ghettoized and inherits a generation's worth of fear and resentment towards them as a result.

I think that a lot of white people in the South are a lot more comfortable around black people than white people who live in the North, even if those white people in the North are more likely to be voting for Obama and for policies that take the unique situation of black people in America into account.

Racism can manifest in a lot of different ways.
posted by duvatney at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I lived in North Philadelphia for three years. Living on a grad student budget and being very introverted meant that I was a young white woman living alone in mostly poor black neighborhoods. My third year, I was talking to one of my (black) students and I told him where I lived (West Oak Lane neighborhood).
"You must be the only white girl around there", he said
"Yeah, I think so", I said
He leaned in sympathetically and said "Are people up there real mean to you?"
I thought about the family next door, who helped me move my mattress the first time they met me, because I was alone. I thought about the time it was hot out and we all had our windows open, and I sneezed in my apartment and the dad heard me from their apartment and yelled "God bless you!" and I yelled back "Thanks!" and then he yelled and asked if I wanted to come over for dinner, they were having turkey soup. I thanked him, but, being a vegetarian, declined.
"They are the nicest neighbors I have ever had" I told my student.

The saddest experience I ever had with race happened in that same apartment, just before I moved out of Philly forever. I didn't understand it at first.
It was early in the morning, about 7:30. I woke up because my cats, sleeping on the bed with me, were suddenly alarmed. I thought I heard someone moving around in my apartment (the whole first floor of a row home) I yelled out a hello, and heard someone say something back.
A young black man walked into my bedroom. I was surprised, and confused, but I was never even scared, because the young man was so obviously terrified. He stammered out an explanation that he was the cousin of the woman who lived up stairs, and their uncle (the building's maintenance man) had told him that I was moving out of the apartment, and he was thinking about renting it. The uncle had thought I was moving out last Saturday. I told him that no, it was next Saturday. He said that he wanted to look at the apartment and noticed the door was unlocked when he was visiting his cousin, so walked in and saw that the apartment was mostly packed, and thought I had moved out. He apologized continuously throughout. I knew that the woman upstairs was related to the maintenance man, so I assumed the story was true. I assured him that no harm was done, and told him my real move date. He told me I ought to keep the door locked, and I let him know that I usually did, I must have forgotten it. I could not understand why the young man seemed to be frightened out of his wits.
Later that day, his cousin, my neighbor, knocked on my door and apologized on his behalf again and let me know that he was telling the truth. I told her that it was fine.
Only weeks later did I realize that that young man had every reason to be completely scared of me. If I, a young white female grad student who the neighbors all knew lived alone, had called the police and said that a young black man had come into my apartment and walked into my bedroom, he could have gone to jail for a very long time. While he had no intent to harm me, he knew that I couldn't know that. If I were a slightly more anxious person I might have ruined that man's life. I was a much bigger threat to him and his well being than he ever was to me.

I don't know what these experiences mean about race, or about Philly. I'm not from there. I went there, went to school, and left because the whole city seemed pervaded with a sense of sadness and desolation. I felt... whiter there. Not like I was paler, just like it mattered more to the people around me. I wasn't as aware of privilege before I lived there, and my sense of it has faded somewhat in the years since I left. It was an unlooked for part of my grad school education. I don't exactly wish it hadn't happened. I guess I just wish it didn't have to.
posted by Adridne at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I lived on 44th, between locust and spruce about 15 years ago.

On the plus side, there was a good deli and good Ethiopian nearby.

On the minus side, the house itself was collapsing, and it seemed like the landlord was just biding his time until somebody wanted to buy the whole block, knock everything down, and install a high-rise. It was a visceral lesson in how slums decay.

Also, while we never had any problems with crime, we were certainly near problems with crime.

the idea that white Northern liberals are less racist (at least towards black people) than white Southern conservatives is a really bizarre one to me

That response is every bit as ignorant as the claim to which it responds.
posted by grudgebgon at 9:29 PM on March 16, 2013


a friend meets up with a guy for weed at 52nd and Market. The gentrification is moving westward to the extent that the dealer feels that now that stop is too hot, so they are moving east, like to 63rd. The drug action has gone way up in Upper Darby, where Market Street turns into Westchester Pike and where the El ends. Why are the dealers moving west? 1) Gentrification in the west and 2) The white kids from the suburbs like to meet up in Upper Darby, because it is a transportation hub.

The only place I've been in (experience covers Portland, the Texas Panhandle, NYC, and Philly) that is more overtly racist than Philly is ABQ. In ABQ, you've got latinos v. whites v. Native Americans, with stuff goin' on like monuments celebrating one ethnicity defaced by members of another. But, apologies to ABQ, I haven't lived there, only visited and heard a lot, so maybe I've got a skewed perspective or something.

My most representative experience about racism in Philly came from the mouth of this very out gay community college student, who for some reason liked to talk to me (a writing tutor) about the guys he was dating. Anyway, out of the mouth of this very out and proud gay kid came the words, "I'm a racist. Black people are just x, y, and z. Upper Darby? Bad as West Philly. Because of the blacks."

It's really weird -- I've heard weird race shit come out of the mouths of very well-educated people, people like the gay kid where I would have assumed that they would have a different perspective when it comes to race.

I lived in nyc from the early nineties to the late 'aughts. Maybe there was similar racism in maybe the seventies when NYC was fucked as a city. But in my experience in NYC, you start proudly talking about how racist you are, you better be ready to proudly get your face beaten in.
posted by angrycat at 7:35 AM on March 17, 2013


There's an op-Ed by the only full-time black staffer of Philadelphia on Philly.com today.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:13 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up in an area once referred to as West Philadelphia, but may only be known to you now as its rebranded name of Cedar Park or University City


That's asinine, speaking as a fellow white, Jewish native of West Philadelphia.

West Philadelphia is a large section of the city composed of neighborhoods that have names. It's how West Philadelphians from Mantua can distinguish where they live from West Philadelphians from Overbrook.

The neighborhood around Cedar Park has been called by the name of the park since at least the the 1970s. It's hardly the sort of bullshit gentrifying real estate term that she seems to be implying. University City is that sort of term, but the idea that it's boundaries stretch to include Cedar Park is very recent one. Besides, most people just say West Philly anyway because the neighborhoods around there are all so small that it doesn't make too much of a difference whether you live in Cedar Park, Squirrel Hill, Spruce Hill, or what have you.
posted by snottydick at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Big thanks to snottydick for articulating part of why it's so hard to talk about 'West Philadelphia' as a monolith.

In my experience, when 20something white people, like myself and the author of the West Philly piece here, say "West Philly," they're usually talking about a very specific slice of West Philly. I'd say it's bounded roughly by that horrible 38th/University/Baltimore interchange to the east, the Media/Elwyn regional rail tracks to the south, 51st street (maybe 52nd if you're being generous) to the west, and somewhere between Market and Spruce to the north depending how far west you are. This is the area where UPenn has poured major money into k-8 education (well, one school at the expense of others, but that's a whole separate controversy), subsidized mortgages for employees, and been a major funder of the University City District, among other things. Like snottydick mentioned, most people say West Philly because the actual neighborhoods are teeny and not well-defined. "University City," in my head at least, implies parts further east with higher concentrations of undergrads from both Penn and Drexel.

Technically speaking though, West Philly is anything on the west side of the Schuylkill River that's north of the Media/Elwyn tracks. That's a huge slice of the city. There's a lot of rougher areas of long-term poverty, as MisanthropicPainforest and angrycat have mentioned, but also some pockets of wealth, especially in areas that butt up against the Main Line. I went to an event once in a home on 54th near City Line and St Joseph's that was one of the poshest houses I've ever been.

Clearly, the young author of that West Philly piece has never tried looking for West Philly housing on craigslist. That's when you really realize how vast West Philly is, when you're looking for something in the tiny "Penntrified" slice and all of the West Philly apartments listed are in Overbrook or Parkside or something.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:36 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Technically speaking though, West Philly is anything on the west side of the Schuylkill River that's north of the Media/Elwyn tracks

My Dad will never be on board with that. A lot of old heads draw the line at Baltimore Avenue, and so does the City of Philadelphia, at least parly. It's one of these endless debates between official designation and popular usage.

The technical line between West & Southwest, according to the City Planning Commission, runs from the city line along Baltimore Ave, turns S at 51st, and then continues E along the Media/Elwyn tracks until turning NE at 49th St along Kingsessing Ave. It turns S again at 46th St and runs into the river at Gray's Ferry.

That last triangle seems crazy to me, but it seems to have been the historical line and must be based on the old boundary of the Borough of Kingsessing prior to incorporation. You have the Southwest 7th Day Adventist Church and the Southwest Community Enrichment Center in there, but try telling the folks at Four Worlds Bakery or the West Philly Tool Library that they're actually in Southwest Philly!

What's interesting is that the Planning Commission seems to recognize the cultural shift and is now dividing Southwest into a Lower Southwest and University/Southwest plan. I like that it recognizes that the neighborhood of Kingsessing stands physically apart from the rest of Southwest, divided by the CSX tracks, but it's pretty clear from the inclusion of Powelton Village & Saunders Park that they're just trying to plan along cultural lines with a real eye towards gentrifying Kingsessing. Also, since when did anyone call the part around the University of The Sciences "West Shore?"
posted by snottydick at 9:12 AM on March 19, 2013


must be based on the old boundary of the Borough of Kingsessing prior to incorporation.

Not "incorporation." I meant "consolidation."
posted by snottydick at 6:46 AM on March 20, 2013




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