Whites Make Philadelphia Awful

BY JOEY SWEENEY

Earlier today, the part of Philadelphia social media that has not completely stopped paying attention to the fact that we still have daily newspapers quite rightly erupted when Philly.com published a smattering of verified reader comments bearing the headline, “Whites Make Brewerytown Better.” It was a response to an earlier piece by Ronnie Polaneczky (herself not the softest touch) about the Brewerytown neighborhood’s present and continuing struggle with gentrification. But the hamfistedness of both headline and its flaming-bag-of-dog-poo contents — presented first as plain statement of fact on the Philly.com front page and social media accounts, then altered with a “Readers respond:” slug, then shuffled off of the homepage altogether — quickly became the main story.

So much so that by the end of the day, Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson (who has presided over messier moments than this and ostensibly will see more before a buyout beckons him) felt compelled to pen a mashed-up moment of profoundly needy, cringeworthy handwringing mixed with a laughable level of mansplaining. His point, if I am eking this out correctly: Guys, this is what letters pages are! We find the most vile stuff someone has said about something we wrote, then we find a few fools salty enough to stand by/verify their own drivel, and then we publish it BECAUSE DEBATE IS HEALTHY!

This is all very regrettable, but it does provide occasion for us to say something that is worth saying, something that we can and will say right here in Philly.com’s own language of simple disappointment: Whites make Philadelphia awful. Whites have made Philadelphia awful in the past, and whites are certainly making Philadelphia awful right now, as we speak. How would I know? I’m a 44-year-old white male lifelong Philadelphian, that’s how, and I say this not to be contrarian or because I’m trying to curry favor with anyone. I’m saying it because it’s a fact, and I’m tired of it.

Whites make Philadelphia awful when they turn Frank Rizzo, a deeply racist totem of old Philly, into some kind of Jesus figure. Whites make Philadelphia awful when they persist each New Year’s Day with a parade that was rooted in blackface, and can’t get their shit together to have one single year go off with finding someone new to alienate. Whites make Philadelphia awful when they spend their final years on this Earth peddling xenophobia with a side of cheesesteak, only to leave their kids to clean it up when they finally croak. Whites make Philadelphia awful when they recklessly gentrify neighborhoods and ethnic foods alike, creating lines of high and low with their own head-in-the-clouds white gaze. Whites especially make Philadelphia awful when they treat the whole city like some kind of white privilege frat party a few times a year, anchored to any holiday you might care to mention or even just the weekend.

Some of this stuff is older than us, and can only be changed by acknowledging our deeply biased sense of white Philadelphian history. Some of it, as I say, is happening right now, with people too new here to know about the long legacy of whites making Philadelphia awful. As a result, new innovations in whites making Philadelphia awful continues apace.