Anatomy Of An EPIC FAIL: How PhillyMag’s Race-Baiting Cover Story Went Over Like A Fart In Church This Weekend

Philadelphia Magazine has not, in our lifetimes at least, ever been known as a publication that has truly been representative of the city it claims to represent or depict. And with its fortunes having been built — and thus, its own worldview — during an era where white flight was rampant and xenophobia and racism among the chief traits of its well-heeled suburban audience, the magazine has struggled in recent years as the city has experienced a rebirth of sorts. To visit the magazine’s frequently troll-y “Hey, look at me!” website is to see that struggle in real time. But this time, that editorial edict might have gone too far.

Over the weekend, the magazine’s newest issue hit the stands, bearing a cover story by Robert Huber, the gist of which is “Being white in Philly: In a city that is largely poor and segregated white people have become afraid to say anything at all about race. Here’s what’s not being said.” (We’re not going to bother linking to it because A) enough already, fuck these guys forfuckingever, and B) it’s Monday morning and you may already be agitated.) And as Daniel Denvir expertly pointed out yesterday, the piece is a study in/defense of the ways and mores of Philly’s closet-racist archetype (which is to say, barely closeted at all), outlining a series of situations, such as The Case Of The Missing Blackberry, that read like some bizarro world rendering of various Spike Lee scenarios — only this time, it’s all in the service of calling the poor beleaguered white people of Philadelphia (or, rather, the Philadelphia suburbs) a wahhhhhmbulance. Worse still, this wasn’t even an piece about race in Philly, as billed: Oh no. There was no mention of Asians or Latinos or, really, anything other than white people in Philadelphia, feeling uncomfortable around black people. What year is this?

To make matters still even worse, PhillyMag pulled a classic PhillyMag move with this issue: They printed two covers, one with Huber’s article on the front, and another with M. Night Shyamalan’s wife, Bhavna Vaswani, for the hospitality industry — the idea being that (probably correctly) hotel visitors in Philly would rather not be troubled with PhillyMag’s fairly consistent history of classism and racism, writ large on the cover once and for all. One problem with that: This is also the issue that was sent to some people of color, be they clients or PR folks, and well, that’s just not a good look. In fact, nothing about this is.

To put it mildly: People are not stoked. Among them, even some folks who write for the magazine:


Meanwhile, Jason Fagone took the “bros before [apparently anything else on Earth]” approach:


Jane Roh, Communications Director for Philadelphia City Council/Council President Darrell Clarke, smelled something rotten before she even cracked the spine:


And you couldn’t really fault Atrios for putting too fine a point on it:


TwoOneFive magazine publisher Tayyib Smith spoke up as well:


And it goes on from there. Reactions are still forthcoming. And as of this writing, PhillyMag’s website has made no mention of the controversy, perhaps in shock that any non-racist non-suburban 1950s xenophobes managed to find the article at all. Well, we have, PhillyMag, and you know what?


This is the last straw.

  • http://www.facebook.com/echoalpha Erica Atwood

    Needlesstosay, the editor is obviously part of the issue too:

    Tom McGrath @tmcgrathphilly
    @badkittysays What critics seem to miss — so far — is that there are a wide range of views expressed in the piece

  • jmon

    uhhhh couldn’t it be a decent thing that this magazine is exploring inequality, white privilege, racism in a language its readership will relate to and in a way perhaps meant to incite dialogue and engender backlash (the urban pioneer line comes to mind especially)? the portraits in this article nailed white guilt/privilege/racism in a way i think many of us can recognize and most whites will have trouble denying or distancing themselves from. the fundamental point is an important one and worth raising: that too many white people are ‘afraid’ to talk about race (feel good jen, the author not confronting racist 87 yr old), because they are afraid to mis-step, to display and take responsibility for their necessary, inherent racism and privilege, is stunting progress toward equality. it seems like the ‘intelligentsia’ is somehow post-race, or some knowing monolith, but that stance seems like a cop out, and reminds me of suburban white college kids going bohemian and distancing themselves from their privilege, bc they ‘get it’, see it, they act as if it no longer applies to them. anyway, the article does blunder, and is racist, and the magazine is a profound embarrassment but to distance one’s self from the article without directly and personally confronting the issues raised, and boxing it into another ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy, is probably more disappointing and dangerous.

  • KoeniginLuisevonPreussen

    I’m just trying to imagine if a story entitled “being black in Philly” would arouse a firestorm of hatred for: 1) failing to interview any white people, 2) failing to marshal facts/opinions to counter the unfair generalizations about whites made by its black interviewees, 3) allowing its black interviewees to speak frankly and share their real thoughts anonymously, regardless of their objective truth…

    Naaaah… didn’t think so.