Monday, March 25, 2013
'Being White in Philly': America agonises over race and free speech after article sparks furore
Candid reflections by Robert Huber, a white author, on life in Philadelphia, the city where the US founding fathers first met, have triggered outrage amid a racial debate across America.
When Robert Huber visits his son at the apartment he rents with friends near his college campus in north Philadelphia, he admits that he is filled with a sense of foreboding.
Temple University has a strong academic reputation, but it is also located in an area of Philadelphia that has long been plagued by urban decay. The students are prime targets for crime, a policeman noted to Mr Huber, a long-time resident of the city.
The number of burglaries and robberies is high, drug dealing is rampant, and gangs of young men mill around, day and night, on the steps of town houses with broken windows and padlocked front doors.
The neighbourhoods of north Philadelphia are also predominantly African-American.
During those visits, said Mr Huber, he realised that he and his fellow white Philadelphians do not just try to avoid those areas physically but also do their best to erase them from their minds, as they dodge that most loaded of subjects in America - race.
Mr Huber, a writer, sought to address this in a detailed exploration of race in one of American's biggest and most segregated cities for this month's edition of Philadelphia magazine. And he wrote it from the perspective of fellow whites in the city.
The unvarnished result was Being White in Philly. It has been praised by some as a thoughtful insight into this most sensitive of subjects, but denounced by many - both black and white - for perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes in a one-sided depiction based on the prejudiced views of unidentified whites.
Mr Huber concluded with a call for a debate about race to take place, not just within the white and black communities, but between them. "We need to end the conversational divide so that there are no longer two private dialogues in Philadelphia," he wrote.
He has certainly achieved that wish. In a country where the legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination still burn deep, the article in a city magazine has sparked a bout of national soul-searching.
Half a century after Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech about race equality, and more than four years after the first African-American president took office, the uproar illustrates how sensitive the issue remains in America.
That this debate is playing out in Philadelphia only deepens the soul-searching, given the role that the city has in the country's psyche.
The City of Brotherly Love - its motto is the translation of its name from the Greek - was the location for the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787. The First Amendment to that document enshrines the cherished principles of freedom of speech and religion.
The fact that the editorial staff of Philadelphia magazine is entirely white has fuelled the uproar. The publication's only African-American employee, who works as an events planner, published a commentary in The Philadelphia Inquirer last weekend.
In The Only Black Person in the Room, Adrienne Simpson called the cover story a "lopsided, conflagrant editorial - that teetered on the brink of fear-mongering".
The backlash has been led by Michael Nutter, the mayor, who condemned the magazine for portraying "an ethnic group that, in its entirety, is lazy, shiftless, irresponsible, and largely criminal".
In his letter to the city human relations commission, its equal opportunities agency, he excoriated the publication for the "reckless equivalent of shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre" - and labelled "its prejudiced, fact-challenged generalisations an incitement to extreme reaction".
He asked the commission to consider a "rebuke" of the magazine and writer "in light of the potentially inflammatory effect and the reckless endangerment to Philadelphia's racial relations".
But the mayor, who was travelling in Italy and unavailable for comment last week, has in turn been criticised for trying to intimidate free speech with his damning response.
Tom McGrath, the editor, is fighting back. "I applaud the mayor for asking for an inquiry into the state of racial issues in Philadelphia," he said. "The need to have a deeper discussion about race in Philadelphia is exactly why we ran our story in the first place.
"Like any reader, the mayor is entitled to think and say what he wants about the story. [But] his statements about the magazine and mischaracterisation of the piece make me wonder if he's more interested in scoring political points than having a serious conversation about the issues.
"Furthermore, his call for a 'rebuke' of the magazine by the commission is rich with irony... the mayor loves the First Amendment - as long as he and the government can control what gets said."
Mr Huber's article lards his personal observations on the state of race relations in the city with the anecdotes he collected over several weeks in Fairmount, a gentrifying mostly white neighbourhood of younger incomers and older residents. All those he quotes are identified by first name only.
Fairmount is separated by a wide highway from North Philadelphia, home to what he calls "a vast and seemingly permanent black underclass".
Among the stories he relates is that of "Dennis", a 26-year-old teacher in an inner city school, who described an episode after he called a disruptive young teen "boy" - technically correct, but a term once used disparagingly by whites to refer to black men of any age.
The child's stepfather came to the school and accused Dennis of being a racist. "Dennis apologised, knowing how loaded the term 'boy' was and regretting that he'd used it, though he was thinking, 'Why would I be teaching in an inner-city school if I'm a racist?'," Mr Huber writes.
"The stepfather calmed down, and that would have been the end of it, except for one thing: the student's behaviour got worse. Because now he knew that no one at the school could do anything, no matter how badly he behaved."
Anna, a Russian-born lawyer quoted was scathing in her comments. "I've been here for two years, I'm almost done," she said. "Blacks use skin colour as an excuse. Discrimination is an excuse, instead of moving forward... Why do you support them when they won't work, just make babies and smoking pot?"
Whites from Philadelphia, Mr Huber notes, are more wary about expressing such opinions, even if they hold them. Indeed, he argues that many whites are willing to excuse poor behaviour by African-Americans because of the country's recent past.
"Our racial history, as horrible and daunting as it is, has created a certain tolerance of how things operate in the neighbourhood, an acceptance of an edgy status quo," he writes.
John, 87, a retired office worker quoted in the article, showed little such reticence as he narrated muggings and robberies by blacks. He said that former black neighbours were "working people, nice people, lovely people" but then used a common racial epithet and "boy" to describe a stranger he said had broken into his home.
Mr Huber also describes the experiences of Jen, an architect's wife, who insisted on sending her two young children to the local school with a mostly African-American population - to the surprise and dismay of other white mothers who went to great lengths to place their children in a "less black" school further away.
In North Philadelphia, his portrayal was denounced last week as one-sided, racist, simplistic, insulting and inflammatory. "He is mixing up race with class and poverty," Monica Peters, an African-American public relations professional who lives in the area he describes, told The Sunday Telegraph. "You can go to poor white and Latino and Asian communities in this country and you will witness just the same problems.
"The article is racist and it's morally unacceptable. He has taken a small demographic and given the impression that it represents the African-American community as a whole. Even here in North Philly, one block can be very nice and the next one you can see these issues."
Yet the comments expressed by the unidentified characters in "Being White in Philly" are not so different to those expressed by a fellow Philadelphian in a fiery speech in 2011 - except on that occasion it was Mr Nutter, speaking from a church pulpit in response to a spate of attacks by so-called "flash mobs" of black youths in downtown Philadelphia.
"You've damaged yourself, you've damaged another person, you've damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race," he told the congregation.
He railed against young men in hoodies and low-hanging jeans who take no part in the upbringing of their offspring, and warned parents who neglect their children that they would be "spending some quality time with your kids" in jail.
"The Immaculate Conception of our Lord Jesus Christ took place a long time ago, and it didn't happen here in Philadelphia," he said. "To fathers: if you're not providing the guidance, and you're not sending any money, you're just a sperm donor."
Mr Huber ends his piece with his yearning for "a city in which it is okay to speak openly about race". And then he concludes: "Meanwhile, when I drive through North Philly to visit my son, I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape. Though I wonder: am I allowed to say even that?" His critics would answer that question "Not like this, no", it seems.
See the original article here.
America's most successful industry ignores diversity
From a CNN special report:
How diverse is Silicon Valley? Most tech companies really, really don't want you to know, and the U.S. government isn't helping shed any light on the issue.
In an investigation that began in August 2011, CNNMoney probed 20 of the most influential U.S. technology companies, the Department of Labor, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filing two Freedom of Information Act requests for workforce diversity data.
A year and a half, a pile of paperwork, and dozens of interviews later, we have a little more insight -- but not much.
Most of the companies stonewalled us, but the data we were able to get showed what one might expect: Ethnic minorities and women are generally underrepresented, sometimes severely so -- particularly in management roles.
White and Asian males often dominate their fields.
Our investigation demonstrated how difficult -- and sometimes impossible -- gaining any insight into Silicon Valley's employee diversity can be. It shows a general lack of transparency in an industry known for its openness.
It's not clear why Silicon Valley, like Hollywood, gets special treatment. Big campaign donations? Or a genuine fear of killing the goose that lays the golden egg?
Anyway, I thought Diversity Is Our Strength ... so, how come the celebrated supermen of Silicon Valley, like the late Steve Jobs, don't agree? Do they know something we don't know?
Political correctness is becoming more - not less - of a problem in Britain
By Tim Loughton (Member of Parliament for East Worthing and Shoreham)
Are you or have you ever been a homophobe seems to have become the new McCarthyism of our age. Given the urgency and frenzy of the lobby pushing forward the Gay Marriage Bill you wouldn’t think that no one had actually been able to give it a democratic mandate at the last election. At the evidence sessions of the committee which has just finished scrutinising the legislation Labour MPs tore into the Catholic Bishops as if they were prosecutors at a war crimes trial.
If you are not in favour of gay marriage then clearly you must be against equal rights for gay people so the flawed logic goes. Being an enthusiastic supporter of civil partnerships legislation and the full equality in the eyes of the law that it brought for same sex couples back in 2004 is not good enough apparently. Gay marriage has become this season’s new black and if you have a problem with that then you are written off not just as a fashionista lightweight but a full-blown bigot. The irony of the intolerance this demonstrates on the part of those pushing for greater tolerance of those with a different sexual orientation is not lost on many.
It is the ‘if you are not actively for some specific measure then you must be positively against the cause’ mentality that has become the hallmark of the thought police that we increasingly have to look out for over our shoulders to avoid coming a cropper. It is also the fuel for one of the most insidious and destructive forces at work in society today, namely political correctness. It can affect MPs in no less a way than our constituents. Indeed there are some cases where we are more vulnerable prey as my debate in the Commons last week showed.
I recounted how recently I had been the subject of a criminal investigation by Sussex Police. I was the victim of vexatious allegations from an all too vexing constituent not on account of sexism but racism. In a nutshell the vexed constituent had been placed on the local council’s ‘Customer of Concern’ list and on the obligatory paperwork under the section ‘description’ was referred to as ‘unkempt.’ When approached I said that the Council’s description seemed eminently accurate.
Before you could shout PC49 I had been summoned to a 90 minute interview under caution in a police custody suite on account of my constituent complaining that my comment was racist because he was of ‘Romany Gypsy origin.’ Unkempt, Romany = racist? Your guess is as good as mine, but because my constituent claims to have ‘perceived it as racist’ it becomes a legitimate full blown investigation. The fact neither I nor the Council had any idea that the complainant in question was of Romany Gypsy origin and he was apparently not required to prove it didn’t enter into the equation. Six months, six different police officers and goodness knows how much taxpayers’ money later the case was summarily dropped by the CPS as baseless.
But the damage had been done not least to me as someone who has always stood up against racist bullies. How have the police apparently become so systematically beholden to political correctness that proportionality and common sense have flown out of the window? Risk aversion and independent thinking have replaced common sense judgements as certain senior police officers are fearful of doing anything that conflicts with the manual and might jeopardise their careers with head office.
Tales of political correctness in everyday life are common place: the care home in Brighton which was threatened with having its local authority funding cut because they refused to comply with a demand to survey their octogenarian residents every three months about their sexual orientation; or the special manual for police on how to arrest witches. Throw in the everyday hum drum of councils who ban bingo callers from causing offence to the two fat ladies at 88 or primary schools which ban valentine cards to protect pupils from the emotional trauma of being dumped, and then you often have to check whether April 1st has become a weekly occurrence. My all time favourite though is the case of the 10 year old boy questioned by police on suspicion of racial harassment after he hummed the Crazy Frog tune outside a French teacher’s house!
At its most moderate it provides amusing knocking copy, but too often at its worst it is seriously undermining good race relations, trust in our public institutions and an Englishman’s (or woman’s) right to free speech. In this case it is positively dangerous when it apparently exercises so much time by our already stretched law enforcers. If MPs can fall foul of it then clearly anyone can and it’s time we fought back. I am ready to don my gender neutral, non aggressive, culturally sensitive armour for the crusade (correction- secular expedition) – who’s with me?
Australia: Easy moralism on forced adoption ‘sorry’
The Prime Minister’s apology for forced adoption predictably heaped opprobrium on previous generations for the harsh and outdated attitudes that used to exist towards unwed mothers.
Equally predictably, the Prime Minister made no mention of contemporary failings, and took no responsibility for dealing with the consequences of the progressive policies of today.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the single mother’s pension by the Whitlam Government. This policy helped end the practice of forced adoption because the provision of taxpayer-funded income support gave women who became pregnant out of wedlock the realistic option to keep their children.
The 2012 Greens-dominated Senate inquiry into forced adoption reflexively lauded this as a social leap forward that marked the start of a more tolerant era. However, in the rush to criticise the conservative attitudes of early times and praise modern-day respect for family diversity, the negative social consequences were wholly ignored.
The politically incorrect reality that has emerged in the past 40 years is that welfare for the unwed has led to the very social problem that forced adoption was designed to prevent - the inability of (some but not all) single mothers reliant on public assistance to properly care for children outside of a traditional, financially self-supporting family.
The inconvenient truth is that the right to welfare has become a pathway to welfare dependence and welfare-related dysfunction for a significant underclass of single mothers and their children, and has contributed significantly to the scale of the child protection crisis confronting the nation today.
Australia’s growing underclass of problem families with serious child protection concerns includes disproportionate numbers of single-mother families with a raft of problems (drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness) that impede proper parenting. They account for more than one-third of all substantiated incidents of child abuse and neglect in Australia, and are over-represented at more than twice the expected rate, given the number of single-mother households.
Despite these statistics, the links between family type and child welfare are rarely discussed.
Elites in the media, politics, and academia are uncomfortable making judgments about different kinds of families. This is despite the impact that the reproductive and relationship decisions made by adults has on children, and despite the reams of social science evidence that shows that the children of never-married single mothers do worse on average on all measures of child wellbeing compared to other kinds of families.
Hence, the social disaster surrounding the rise of state-sponsored single-motherhood does not get the attention it deserves. Instead, as the national apology for forced adoption shows, we prefer to practice the easy moralism that condemns the sins of the past, while ignoring the current day sins of ‘enlightened’ social policies that are toxic for child welfare.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.