True colors

It's bad (and dangerous) that Philly racists don't care to keep it to themselves

Philly racists
Under the guise of “protection” there are some Philadelphians showing their true colors when it comes to the thoughts of equality and inclusivity in one of America’s most diverse cities. | Image: Twitter screenshot

In addition to the spotlight George Floyd’s death has placed on police brutality, it has also placed kliegs on the true colors of people we consider our neighbors. 

People aren’t even trying to hide their bigotry anymore. As the attention has shifted to idols in the form of statues that represent a great deal of what was wrong in America, I’m appalled at the people who rally around these same idols standing guard under the name of protection, NIMBYism or frankly whatever else is going on inside their minds at the time. 

As it pertains to our city and the absolute tomfoolery that is transpiring on a nightly basis in South Philadelphia, the scab has been pulled off and the rawness of the racism, sexism and homophobia is rampant, with cops assigned to keep the peace caring very little. Curiosity struck me on Tuesday, so I went to see what the protest was all about, and there were two factions – protesters calling for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza and the bat-wielding, chain-smoking counterprotesters on the other side shouting words like “faggots,” “pussies,” and a few other things I’d rather not even get into – even as an editor for an alt-weekly. 

For a more in-depth look at what transpired, Jason N. Peters has covered the Marconi Plaza demonstrations for us in addition to providing a really sharp look at South Philly’s past.

Oddly enough, when this all started, there was a minuscule part of me that didn’t care if the statue came down or not. In my mind, the outcry of the removal of symbolic statues of a racist past always came in waves here in Philly. But it’s different seeing the racism firsthand, seeing how much hate can arrive from people who view the removal as a desecration of our nation’s history but care very little about the people affected by it – in a city as diverse as ours. 

I think about this knowing many of these people live in the neighborhood, work in the city, attend the same events, all the while hating people who don’t look like them. If you’ve yet to also see the video released by Unicorn Riot from their reporter who was accosted and had his bike tires slashed, you should watch it at least for the very beginning where a man looks at the reporter and asks, “aren’t you embarrassed?” 

It might have been the only somewhat satirical part of the entire video considering he definitely should have been asking himself that question. Are you embarrassed to claim to be “an American,” but you’re protecting a statue of a man who claims he was the first to discover an indigenous land? Aren’t you embarrassed to be a part of a mob that thinks that calling people “faggots,” a term that honestly is on the same level as N-word is still a perfectly acceptable thing to do? 

During my brief stop at Tuesday’s demonstration, I met an older man who, like me, just wanted to see what was going on from afar. He stood away from the crowd watching, and as I walked back to my car in disgust, he looked at me and said, “it’s not all of us, man. I’ve lived in this community all my life and I never thought I’d see it get like this.” He went on to say, chuckling, “I know some of these people, they know my family. It’s messed up to see this is how they truly feel.”

“Racist white men wearing jean shorts and bandannas wielding guns and bats with cops turning a blind eye, isn’t the Philly I know. Angry men ripping down Black Lives Matter signs instead of getting educated on what the term and the cause are really trying to promote isn’t the Philadelphia I’m used to.”

It is messed up. I’ve grown up both in this city and along its outskirts my entire life. I currently live here in one of its rapidly emerging neighborhoods. I’ve chosen to raise a family here, fighting to parlay a run to the burbs for – trust me – as long as humanly possible. I’m proud to say I’m from Philadelphia and there’s something about when someone asks you where you’re from, to say “Philly,” that gets me every time. 

But this shit, racist white men wearing jean shorts and bandannas wielding guns and bats with cops turning a blind eye, isn’t the Philly I know. Angry men ripping down Black Lives Matter signs instead of getting educated on what the term and the cause are really trying to promote isn’t the Philadelphia I’m used to. Even though I know this shit was always there, it just wasn’t so thrown in your face, you know?

We should all be “embarrassed” that this is the Philadelphia we’re living in at this current time. I know I am. And for all of you who suggest “if I don’t like it, I should just pack up and leave,” you’re completely missing the point and you should be “embarrassed” that you don’t get it. 

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.