A decent guy, but out of touch in Philly

JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tom McGrath (left), editor of Philadelphia magazine, and Robert Huber, author of "Being White in Philly," speak at panel discussion Tuesday at Interstate General Media's offices.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tom McGrath (left), editor of Philadelphia magazine, and Robert Huber, author of "Being White in Philly," speak at panel discussion Tuesday at Interstate General Media's offices.
Posted: March 21, 2013

TOM McGRATH, the editor of Philadelphia magazine, comes across as a nice enough guy.

But watching him and writer Robert Huber at Monday's panel discussion on race at the National Constitution Center and at Tuesday night's meeting with the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, they both came across as well-meaning, but out of touch.

In fact, McGrath reminded me of the patriarch on PBS' "Downton Abbey," Robert Crawley. If you've watched this popular British drama, you know that Lord Crawley, portrayed by actor Hugh Bonneville, is a pleasant, kindhearted but ineffectual fellow who fails to grasp that the world around him has changed. In McGrath's case, he's the editor of a magazine that purports to cover a city that's roughly 43 percent African-American with an editorial staff that's 100 percent white. I can't help but wonder, who does he think reads Philly mag anyway? Only white people? Any decent editor knows his staff needs to reflect the area the publication is attempting to cover.

The controversial March cover story by Huber supposedly was to get Philadelphians talking about race in a meaningful way. But from the insults and negative racial stereotypes that have been hurled in the wake of "Being White in Philly," you'd think Philly was stuck in the 1920s like the "Downton Abbey" crew. It has brought out the worst in a lot of people. Suddenly some people feel inspired to let loose with the worst kind of bigotry.

Have you been on Philly.com lately? Here's a touch of what readers said online Tuesday in response to an Inquirer story about Monday's town hall: " girls getting knocked up by multipul [sic] baby daddies and living on a job at BK crying because they cant [sic] get ahead, but cant speak correctly and have the brains to be talking or texting on thier [sic] cell phones at interviews - not a bigot, but telling the truth"

 Or how about this one: " . . . Keep it real folks: blacks want nothing to do with whites. They don't want to live with them, eat with them, socialize with them, work with them, etc. Let's start with names. Blacks have gone as far as they can go to make up names for their children that will immediately be recognized as black the minute it is seen or heard. Shaniqua, Tameeka, Malik, Chiquanda. They were told by Farrakhan to not take the names of "slave owners" and the "blue-eyed devil." How about the language of black people in this country? Forget English. You can even forget ebonics . . . "

It's sickening, the racial bigotry and negativity people spew.

I'll give Huber credit for this much: At least he's man enough to put his name on what he writes unlike most of the folks who leave racist drivel on Philly.com. On Tuesday, I got a chance to talk with Huber before the meeting and asked him what would he do differently if he had the chance.

"Well, I think maybe I would frame a couple of things differently. There's been criticism that I'm painting with too broad a brush and maybe I'm saying that all African-Americans are poor or live in the ghetto," Huber said. "And obviously, that's not the case, but that seems to be some people's takeaway. So, maybe I needed to frame that better and to point out that there are many middle-class African-Americans in Philadelphia, many African-Americans who have positions of power in corporations and government."

Since he'd started off his infamous "Being White in Philly" article by talking about how fearful he is for his son, a student at Temple University, to live where he does at 19th and Diamond streets, I mentioned my own nephew, who attends Drexel University, and asked Huber, didn't he think African-Americans like us also are nervous of high-crime corridors like the one where his son lives?

"Is that right?" he asked.

Huber acted as if I was telling him something new. I should be surprised by that, but I'm not.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: philly.com/HeyJen

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