Mayor Nutter's race distraction is useless

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A demonstrator earlier this month carries a large mask of Mayor Nutter during a school-closure protest. Nutter's recent focus has turned to an article in Philadelphia magazine on race relations.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A demonstrator earlier this month carries a large mask of Mayor Nutter during a school-closure protest. Nutter's recent focus has turned to an article in Philadelphia magazine on race relations.
Posted: March 19, 2013

AS LAST WEEK ended, after Mayor Nutter was the guest of honor at a virtual Whack-a-Mole festival, he turned and fired.

Not at the Inquirer for its lengthy series documenting his failure to collect almost $300 million in unpaid real-estate taxes owed on 100,000 delinquent properties, not at unions that condemned him as a union buster, not at an acidic cartoon by Signe Wilkinson and a scornful column by Your Favorite Columnist.

Instead, Nutter fired off a letter late Friday afternoon to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations that brutally bashed (better late than never?) Philadelphia magazine's recent "whitewash" cover story and requested that the commission "conduct an inquiry into the state of racial issues, biases and attitudes" in the many communities, colors, stripes and polka dots that comprise the City of Brotherly Love.

In closing, Nutter asked the commission to consider rebuking the magazine.

Some see this as Pandering, with a capital P.

Some see this as the mayor's attempt to distract attention from the criticism he received.

Some recall the beatdown he gave to misbehaving black youth to the cheers of a black congregation.

My reaction is sadness that a man who had largely escaped being handcuffed by race now has succumbed.

What's the purpose of a Human Relations Commission probe into race relations? What good will it do?

Didn't the mayor know that "healing" attempts already were scheduled? Such as Monday's "Can We Talk . . . About Race?" panel at the National Constitution Center and Wednesday afternoon's "Being in Philly" group grope in LOVE Park? Both are in response to Philly mag's "Being White In Philly."

The "race situation" in Philadelphia is not excellent, but is improving and is solid between blacks and whites who are high on the education and income ladders. The numbers of interracial marriages and blacks in leadership positions in government and business are growing.

Because behavior usually reflects class, Robert Huber's article, instead of focusing on race, might have explored why (some) white people are afraid of the poor - who commit most violent crime. But then he might have been tarred as a rich elitist.

The people most frightened of blacks are black people themselves, because they are the usual victims of black crime.

"There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved," the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said.

What did Huber write that was so starkly different from Jackson's sad, candid words?

In 2007, I did a column saying I don't buy from China for reasons of American economic health. A few local Asian leaders accused me of being a Sinophobe.

They called a community meeting, invited me, and accepted my explanation that I have no problem with "the Chinese." I don't like China's government.

Everyone perceives facts through the prism of personal experience, but there's a limit to how much sensitivity a writer can pour into a piece.

Philly mag was clobbered in part because it focused on "black and white," excluding other races. But with 80 percent of Philadelphians being black or white, the mag's call is defensible.

How many white people are afraid to walk in Chinatown?

Racial tension - and it's not acute - in Philadelphia is primarily between blacks and whites. White people get hard stares from some black men on the street, black women get followed by white clerks in upscale stores, black men in Jaguars get pulled over by white suburban cops. This is sad, but true.

The solution will be a long time coming. It's hard to imagine racial harmony without integrated neighborhoods, integrated schools and more-equal income.

The Human Relations Commission has some important duties. Being Nutter's press assassin is not one of them.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

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