Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Being White in Philly: A response

I congratulate Robert Huber for being white and actually talking about race, a subject usually avoided by most whites except racists and university sociologists who are "studying the problem."

Huber is apparently confused as to why, after he has lived in a neighborhood that is predominantly African American and is careful to be cautious and polite in his encounters with blacks, Philadelphia remains largely segregated with 31% of its black population below the poverty line. Oh, and yeah, Philadelphia has had black mayors for 25 years and we now have a black president, yet nothing seems to have changed for blacks. In one sentence he dismisses the generations of discrimination that blacks still deal with because he is discussing the issue that race is for whites.

What Huber apparently fails to understand is that racism in the U.S. is historic and systemic, an issue for the entire country because we all live here together. Any examination of race/racism in the United States of America has to begin with slavery and its legacy; otherwise the discussion is meaningless. You can no more examine the issue of race while ignoring its source than you can discuss alcoholism on Native American Indian reservations without factoring in the genocide perpetrated against them.

John Edgar Wideman, who grew up in Philadelphia, has a lot to say about racism in his book Fatheralong, published in 1994, but this statement sums up the insidiousness of racism.

"Of all the weapons devised to conquer and subjugate the lands beyond Europe, the most effective ... is the concept of race. The paradigm of race located within its victims the causes and justification of the victim's plight. Thus the oppressed, to the degree they internalized the message of race became active agents of their own oppression."

I write more about America's intractable racism in my forthcoming book, Not All Poor People Are Black, to be published later this year.

By the way, I wonder if Huber has statistics on the percentage of whites living below the poverty line in Philly?