Being white in Philly
For some reason, plenty of people in Philadelphia are upset because a magazine decided to do an intriguing piece about race relations from the perspective of white people who were given anonymity to speak freely about the subject.
In reading the piece, I don't see why. The article is a refreshing piece of honesty, the kind we need more, not less of.
Should the identifies have been protected? Ideally, no, but I've been in this business long enough to know that on certain topics in certain cases, the only way to get close to actual truth is to allow people to speak without fearing blow back. I wish that wasn't necessary, but sometimes it is. And in this case, the anonymity was not used as a vehicle to allow cowards to spout off ugly stereotypes and not-so-veiled racist thinking, which happens too frequently in online forums and commenting sections. It was used to let people speak what's actually on their minds and points out where their perceptions might be right or mistaken.A couple of years ago, when I did a series of stories on the series of murders and shootings mostly associated with the mostly-black Booker T. Washington neighborhood in Myrtle Beach, I got a chance to speak with a former police officer who had worked in that area. She was attentive and went out of her way to help people in need. She was white. She asked to patrol that area because she wanted to make sure it was handled well and the people there were treated with respect.
After a few years of watching mostly dark-skinned people do ugly things to each other, she caught herself beginning to believe the ugliest racial stereotypes about black people - even though she knew plenty of black people in that area and elsewhere who are upstanding citizens. She said she was ashamed - I didn't believe she had any reason to feel such a thing, because she was simply being human - and had to get out of that environment and finally did. She ended up going into another mostly-black environment, this time in a school setting, and she's been able to do a lot of things to help those students. I'm happy to claim her as a friend.
There's just something about being black - in large part because of the history of this country - that makes each of us - blacks and whites - more susceptible to believe the worst about black people, particularly when we get immersed in the darker side of society. It doesn't happen the same way with whites. It is easier for us to separate the ugly ongoings in, say, a trailer park that has mostly white residents, from white people who don't live in such situations. Our brains look at the ugly for what it is and attribute it to the people doing the ugly. We don't extrapolate to all whites.
But because of the racial history of this country, our default is to associate the worst behavior we see in some black people with most or all black people. The image of Rodney King is more likely to be associated with being black than positive ones, no matter how many Barack Obamas and Colin Powells show up on the scene.
We have to be able to say that and unpack that without calling white people who hold such views racists, particularly knowing that many black people struggle against those same stereotypes. I'm not talking about those who relish those images and use them to say and purposefully believe ugly things about black people, no matter how many times you point out the fallacy in their arguments.
I'm talking about the rest of us, good people who want to do the right thing - including the people in the magazine piece who were given space to be honest about what they really think about race, and why they think it.
How can we get to a better day if we don't allow people to be honest about where they are today?