Philly Mag stirs racial heat: Mayor Nutter adds fuel to the fire

I like what Huber did, if only to prove that our First Amendment is still working. (Apparently not always.)

 Photo: AP

NEW YORK, March 20, 2013 - I am still not sure how I feel about Robert Huber’s piece in this month’s issue of Philadelphia Magazine. In general, I’ve arrived at this conclusion, that there will never be absolute racial brotherhood in the City of Brotherly Love, and this goes for the entire nation as well.

We can hope for peace, but may have to settle for tranquility…from today till doomsday…or from today until the Eagles win the Superbowl.

Huber stirred the hornet’s nest with an article titled “Being White in Philadelphia,” in which he was clear that there is indeed a racial divide in town (as in any town?) and that while grievances go back and forth, he was willing to take a chance and tell it like it is about how delicately “whites” have to tiptoe around race relations. Philadelphia is around 40 percent “black.”

Already a problem! We’re talking black and white, after all this time, and isn’t that the crux of it all? Will this ever end?

Until it does – when the Phillies win the World Series – we have no choice but to move ahead with the prose we’ve been handed, like it or not.

So immediately thereafter, more than a thousand voices chimed in to praise or to denounce Huber, along with Philadelphia Magazine. Essentially, as I read it, both sides, blacks and whites, have a beef.  Moreover, why even touch this third rail at all! I’ll have more on this in a moment.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer – a paper I used to work for as a columnist – carries a piece in today’s edition, bylined George Parry, a former state and federal prosecutor, that mostly takes on Mayor Michael Nutter for calling on Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission to investigate and “rebuke” Huber and the magazine for shouting “fire” in a crowded city.

Nutter’s approach, in my view, is plainly wrongheaded and “potentially inflammatory.” Coincidentally, those are Nutter’s own words, but against Huber and the magazine. Who knows? If Nutter had simply let it go, we would not be talking about this and there would be no fire. That’s just a guess.

Now about getting it all out in the open – sounds good. But I have noticed that usually when people say, “we should have a conversation about this,” what they mean is that they have already made up their minds and the last thing they want is a conversation about this.

Personally, I like what Huber did, if only to prove that our First Amendment is still working. (Apparently not always.)

But is it really helpful to open up old wounds and even new wounds? I’m gaining on the side of no, it isn’t helpful. When boy meets girl, is it ever a good time to ask about previous boyfriends or girlfriends? Some – even some psychologists – will say, sure, open up and share the truth. Well, sometimes sensitivity trumps truth, especially when truth can hurt and ruin everything.

There’s a time to speak up and a time to shut up.

From King Solomon we have this wisdom: Not everything we think must we say.

For me, however, two absolutes remain constant: First, that resentment will always be a fact of life, on race, politics, religion, sports; people are people.

Road rage is everywhere, even at home or at work, and by the way, there is plenty of black on black resentment and also a wrathful of white on white resentment.

The lion will lie down with the lamb when the Flyers win the Stanley Cup.

Second, and most important, is my argument that not everything in life can be or has to be resolved. We live with conflicts and contradictions, and the answer may never come – but we move on and get along as best we can. Life isn’t like math, where every question has an answer. Some may view this as defeatist and pessimistic. No, it’s life here on earth.

I take F. Scott Fitzgerald’s brilliance to heart when he writes:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability is to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Which means?

For me it means that we’d better get along, in harmony.

We’re in this together, and whatever makes us different should not be overly questioned, only celebrated.


Jack Engelhard, a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist, Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, brings his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior and reaches around the globe.

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Jack Engelhard

Jack Engelhard enjoys international fame as a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, which was turned into film starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His memoir Escape From Mount Moriah has been acclaimed for excellence and a movie version was an official selection at CANNES. Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer. Engelhard’s journalism covers all topics, with special focus on  the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe. He can be contacted at


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