Magazine editor admits ‘Being White in Philly’ article had ‘flaws’

Parked cars are shown outside of the stadium with the downtown Philadelphia skyline in the background before the start of the NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Parked cars are shown outside of the stadium with the downtown Philadelphia skyline in the background before the start of the NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

This month’s Philadelphia Magazine cover reads very loudly.

The cover reads, “Being White In Philly,” a reference to the issue’s lead story on how white middle-class Philadelphia residents feel about issues of race, poverty and segregation. The article has been blasted on local Philadelphia city papers, blogs and social media for negatively portraying African-Americans.

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter recently called parts of the story “disgusting.”

The story’s writer, Bob Huber, spent several weeks in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philly talking to middle class white residents about how race “affects them.”

One response from a woman Huber identifies as ‘Anna’:

“Blacks use skin color as an excuse. Discrimination is an excuse, instead of moving forward. It’s a shame–you pay taxes, they’re not doing anything except sitting on porches smoking pot … Why do you support them when they won’t work, just make babies and smoking pot? [...]“

Another response from 87-year-old ‘John,’ who recalls an encounter with a young boy who came into his house:

“It was a ni**er boy, a big tall kid. He wanted money.”

Other ‘responses’ from white residents include tales of black drug dealers and thieves.

The magazine’s editor, Tom McGrath, told me in a phone interview Monday afternoon much of the criticism of the article is “fair.”

“This [story] certainly had some flaws in it,” McGrath said. “We by no means were trying to do a definitive take on race relations in Philadelphia. We set out to do this from one particular point of view.”

For many, including writers on the magazine’s own staff, that’s putting it lightly. Steve Volk, a senior writer for the magazine, slammed the entire story for not providing enough context or depth.

“Bob assures me he just wanted to let his sources speak for themselves in this story. But he seems to miss the obvious here, which is that if white Philadelphians would like to be able to address race without being labeled “racist,” they should avoid saying racist things. But there are further layers of error and creeping bias to uncover here [...] “

McGrath admits the fallout from the ‘Being White’ article is the biggest reaction to a story he’s seen in his career.  The premise of the story made sense, he says — to focus on one specific neighborhood and get reactions from those residents.

The article was not titled, “Some residents talk about being white in Fairmount,” though McGrath insists his headline and the overall issue was not a “marketing ploy.”

“I think there’s some things I would re-do,” McGrath said about the hot-button issue. “To make it clearer what exactly we were talking about, the packaging of the story [...]. Some people read this as painting all African-Americans with one brush. That’s also something that we should have done a much better job of making clear.”