Philadelphia – The most racist place on earth


I read an article the other day titled, “Being White in Philly” and I can say first hand that what the article talks about is real. The article talks about the different sections of Philadelphia and how race relations are between black and white citizens. It talks about how white people in Philadelphia feel they need to behave in order to live here. Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter didn’t like this article – but as the Mayor, I think he should have read it as a city leader and not just as a black man; not that it is fair to ask him to separate those two things but in a city divided – he needs to be able to do so in order to lead this city and look at it’s issues from where they come – race relations. Mayor Nutter is another subject worth writing about at some other time – talk about being caught in the middle. Anyway, let me explain my reasoning before everyone starts calling me a racist…

I have actually wanted to write about this since I moved here back in 2008. I have never experienced a place like Philadelphia. It isn’t just divided by black and white, but by black and black, white and white, and then everyone else. Philly is a culturally diverse place, but those cultures are completely separated from one another by economics, ethnicity, and culture. White Irish don’t associate with white Russians, middle/upper class blacks, don’t associate with the blacks from center city. Not only are there lines between races, there are lines between even members of the same race – with different values. Sure, every city does this to some extent, but Philadelphia is different; the people of Philadelphia willfully and purposefully segregate themselves from one another.

In just the five years I have lived here, I have watched how this city migrates. One neighborhood that used to be all Polish American, is now all black, and the Poles have moved to new neighborhoods. Whites are taking over parts of the city that have been black for some time, and those blacks are moving north. You see, instead of moving into neighborhoods and having it be a ‘melting pot’ and people just learning to live together, people just move and take over a new neighborhood. It’s like a cultural gangland.

Aside from that, there is real racism here. It is tangible. I have never been anyplace in the world where racism is so blatant and accepted. When I first started working in center city, I was AMAZED at how hard it was to make friends. I have never had a problem making friends of any color and finding people to hang out with. However, here in Philly, if you are white and start chatting it up with a black person – you need to prepare yourself; it is crazy if you aren’t from here and don’t understand it. I used to have long conversations with my black co-workers because I really didn’t understand why people hated me so much just for being there. The people I worked with were kind and patient with their conversations with me, and I believe they saw my questions for what they were – curiosity and an attempt to understand. It’s like in order to live here I need to pick a team and stick to it – except I don’t know what team I belong to. I know I’m not black so I can’t hang with them. I’m not Irish or Russian or Polish. I’m not Asian or Mexican. I’m just me and my skin is whiteish. Culturally, I don’t have a group to assign myself to, and until I moved here I never felt the need.

I will say that living here has opened my eyes to racism in a way that I am thankful for. I honestly never thought racism was so… well… real. I grew up in California – poor. So when you are poor, you get to live with everyone else who is poor –  in our country, that translates to “culturally diverse” so as a kid- we were all just poor trailer trash, not black or white trailer trash. There was never a racial division (that I was aware of). My first experience with racism was when I joined the Army. Then though – it was more a molding of attitudes – getting people from all walks of life to work together. So while the black girls and the white girls in basic had some arguments when learning to live and work together,  I never saw it as racism  but as all of us being thrown together and forced to get to know each other and learn to work together. Again, I asked a lot of questions. I took stereotypes like watermelon and fried chicken and asked where they came from. Maybe I was nieve, maybe I still am, but I believe that asking questions and learning is the way to combat racism. I like when people ask me questions too – even if they seem offensive. I think we need to stop being offended by everything and just try to learn about and from one another. I am certainly a minority in this city and it isn’t because of my skin tone – it is my attitude.

I do now have a greater understanding of how it feels to be the only person of a certain race in an area dominated by a different race. It’s scary really. I went to a McDonald’s here in center city and I was the only white person there. I could feel people staring at me. I could feel them wondering, “What the hell is she doing here?” I was stared down, intimidated. People cut in front of me in line, and gave me that, “what are you going to do about it?” look. One person commented, “You’re in the wrong place Honey.” Really? McDonald’s in a mall is the wrong place for me to be? How so? I don’t understand. I wanted to have to conversation right there – but I was honestly too fearful to ask why being there was so bad for me. I was fearful getting some lunch. So I thought about it on my own, and I thought wow, this must be just a taste of how a black person  must feel when they are the only one  in a sea of white people and someone under their breath calls them names.

Philadelphia is toxic for race relations. Philadelphia is I think, an enigma. People should study this place because it is like no other place I have ever been and I have been to many places. I understand cities and having the poor “bad” neighborhoods that you stay away from. Every city has that to some extent. Philly though, that is what identifies this city – the separation of neighborhoods, cultures, and ethnicity’s. You aren’t from Philadelphia you are from Olney, or Fishtown, or the northeast. I say, “I live in the Northeast” and people assume white, Jewish, Irish, Russian, middle class. You hear “Olney” and assume black, African American, and poor. Your neighborhood along with your skin color dictates your values and the majority of people here are actually proud of that.

For Mayor Nutter to hate the article the way he does just speaks to how entrenched this attitude is in this city. Someone wrote about the attitudes of people in this city – and it was an accurate article from at least my point of view. It included everyone from the blatant racist attitude, to people like me who just don’t understand it all. There are problems here. It’s not the blacks fault, or the whites – it’s not that easy to define and blame. It is a city wide attitude that this city was built on and trying to break through that mentality even one person at a time has proved impossible for me. I am not from here at all – and so regardless of my skin tone – I don’t belong here and people have no issue telling me that. I do feel out of place when I go into the city because of my skin color. That article wasn’t horrible – it just pointed out what no one wants to talk about – but what everyone should be talking about. The way to change it is to talk about it. To make an effort to change it – but people here don’t want to change. People here are comfortable with their hate and segregation from one another. I don’t fit in here. I am too open minded for this city.

Living here in Philadelphia has opened my eyes to the realities of racism, and I for one can’t wait to leave this city. I really do hate it here. It is a land of negative energy and it comes from everyone. To just blame the blacks is completely unfair and leads to even worse race relations. Everyone has a bad attitude here and it is contagious. I went home to CA and visited one of my black friends and flat out said to him, “Thank God I get to spend some time with you so I can reset my racist meter.” We are just friends, our skin color has never been a question and never will be. We just think alike and love each other – weird huh? I need to spend time with my black friends intentionally just to reassure myself that the rest of the world isn’t as bad as it is here. To reassure myself that it isn’t my attitude that is wrong here – to ensure that I don’t become one of these racist people. It is work to constantly remind myself that the world isn’t Philadelphia. That every black person, or white person, or whatever person isn’t always hateful just for the sake of being hateful.

I started this website in part because I want to be able to have a place to have these conversations. I want people from anywhere who identify as anything to be able to talk openly about perceptions, stereotypes, and issues that are controversial  but in a way that leads to understanding, and tolerance. I think we can make our world a better place. I think that through conversation and active tolerance of views that differ from our own can eventually erase some of this wanton hate and misunderstanding. That article was written to kind of intentionally pit black against white, but I am glad that article was written, even if people hate it, just because it got a conversation going that is long overdue.

Do you live in Philadelphia and have an opinion? Do you live in another city that is divided like Philly? I would love to hear about it. Please, if you comment – do so in a respectful manner. 






23 thoughts on “Philadelphia – The most racist place on earth

  1. I live just down the road apiece, in Baltimore, so I have some idea of what you mean. It was like that a lot when I was growing up. I don’t notice as much anymore. That’s because I prefer the internet to knuckleheads in the “real” world.

    The net is how I connect with my friends, and loved ones, but even online, you can encounter the mindless hate of a person because of their skin tone. I just don’t understand it: Hate people (if you must) because of their actions. Those, at least, can be controlled, and are a choice.

    • Thank you for your comment and for reading. I too have turned to the Internet for ‘human’ interaction. I also judge more by peoples actions than their skin tone and I think that is where the conversation needs to be. We need to hold each other accountable to our actions, not our economic status or skin color.

  2. Having lived in Philadelphia for the first twenty-eight years of my life, my recollections agree with your observations. I moved out of the city, as many do, when I started having children. The racial tensions that you describe are pervasive, and have a negative affect on the school district as well.
    I have lived in South Jersey for the last twenty-six years. I cannot tell you that there is no racial tension in South Jersey, but it is much better here than in the city. I would have to say that all of the neighborhoods I have lived in have been racially diverse, and that everyone seem to get along pretty well. My children have had friends from all walks of life, and they know that the real world is not racially homogenious.
    I must confess that when I moved my motivation was not to find this diversity, but merely to find a school district that I felt would offer my children educational opportunities. The diversity was a serendipitous benefit.
    It saddens me to discover that Philadelphia has not progressed much in the twenty-six years since I moved. It is unfortunate that the city cannot live up to it’s name.

    • Laura, Thank you for your comment. The schools here amaze me and I would NEVER ever teach here – even in an all white school. The attitudes are the problem – not the race of the people who have them. The black/white here is obviously the most pervasive and your story is just one of many people who left this city in order to provide a better environment for your children. Racial tension is everywhere to some extent – I have just never experienced it like this.

  3. I come from Utah . . . where there was one black kid in our 99.9% White Mormon High School. So I didn’t grow up with a lot of diversity, you could say . . .

    Part of the affect of that was that these little communities you talk about didn’t form.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your thoughts. Writing about racism today can be . . . touchy grounds. One misstep and you’ll be accused of being bigotted, even if you’re just giving your observations for the problems of continued racism around you.

    I just wrote an article about this as well, because of a book I read from E.R. Burroughs (from 1912 . . . ) that has a lot of hidden racial themes. The author who introduces the book has some really interesting thoughts about what he calls our “post-race hallucinations and omni-racial realities,” citing that while we all like to say we’re post-race, race issues are just as big if not bigger (in some areas) than ever before. I’d be interested to see what you think about the full quote.

    • Jefferson, Thank you for reading and your comment. Yes, writing about racism can be difficult, and while I try to tread lightly, I also try to speak the truth from my perspective. That doesn’t mean I am 100% right or have all the answers – because I surely don’t, but I believe talking about things, no matter how hard they are, is the way to change attitudes and share these perspectives. If we keep not talking because it might be offensive, well – nothing changes.

  4. I’ve been following this story since it originally was published in Philadelphia Magazine and honestly was a bit taken aback by the vicious backlash it stirred up on all sides.

    Hatred is alive and well in our city. Progression feels stunted at best to me on a good day. I grow tired of living in a community that enjoys and encourages separatist ideals: 0/

  5. Wow, ignorance is on your side. blacks in Philly feel at home. So they do not have to pretend and be nice to a white person. While blacks in other parts of the country are more suppressed by white domination. So they have to play that nice attitude. Why the hell someone want to talk to you? So if someone does not want to talk to you, you call them racist. ignorant.

    • Anyway, I am asian, I have a white step-son, whom I raised to be open minded. He has indian, black, pakistani, chinese etc, friends. My two sons are half white-half asian. But my older son has black hair. So this one white kid comes to visit my step-son on the street. He plays with his younger brothers. So this white kid tells my step-son to stop playing with those “chink chongs”. How about that.

      Then, black kids from my step son class came over to play some basketball. Well, my SOB white neighbor, came out and started to tell the kids to leave “niggers”. How about that?

      i have more experiences like those with whites.

    • Civic, again, I appreciate your comment and I tank you for reading and sharing your perspective. However, in the future please refrain from calling me ignorant. I am not. I may struggle to understand. I may not be right. However, I do not hold a grudge – I strive for understanding and communication even if that means that I open myself up to criticism. I am all for different opinions, but please share how I can change my views, rather than call names.

      None of us are perfect people, but we must learn to live together peacefully, and if me sharing my fears, stereotypes, and ideas is “ignorant” then maybe I should stop writing. However, there have been many beneficial conversations and much learning here because I am willing to be honest. It doesn’t make me right, or ignorant – it just means I am seeking the truth and solutions for a better world.

      We obviously aren’t there yet.

  6. Thank you. I feel like you were secretly spying on my thoughts. It is nice to know I am not the only weirdo that doesn’t fit in here. I am trying really hard to find another job and move out of the city before my little one is ready to start school.

  7. Sophist6, I agree with everything you wrote in your article. I was born and raised in Philadelphia I’m 37 years old and when you said the part about the neighborhoods, that totally blew my mind. This city is totally divided that you really hit the nail on the head. I don’t blame u move back to where your happy and get away form this torn up city of Brotherly Love

    • I am an American born East Indian guy who is a college-educated professional. I have lived in many places and traveled extensively. The Philadelphia is definitely the most racist, backward metropolitan area on the face of this earth. My girlfriend (who is biracial) and I lived in the Philadelphia region for several years and we are both happy we moved out of there due to many bad experiences.

  8. u can believe what you want but I see black people in Philadelphia threatened mentally ill and get away with it I hate being black because I’m being steroitype as a black person I wish I was never born I wouldn’t be saying this carp for nothing

  9. when a black mementally ill individual try so hard to get away from his own people that says alot about them I don’t want to pick up bad habits form my people because it would ruin my reputation as a mentally ill individual I got to cut the tyes with all black people until I figure this thing out

  10. I think it’s a bad idea for open-minded people to leave the city, because then it will only get worse. I consider myself open-minded, and I think it’s my duty to my city to stay and try to work with others to make the city less racist. It can get really stressful, but in order to help fight racism we should take action instead of leaving.

  11. I have been living in Philadelphia for 58 years. I agree that Philadelphia is a racist city too. Personally, as a black female growing up in Philadelphia I experience racism from a very young age. You are right about the different Cultures living in their own part of the city. However, we need to start with having a conversation concerning inequality here in Philadelphia. You mentioned that you were looked at as a minority when you were in center city. All my years living in Philadelphia, whites have been moving away from black people. Back in 1987 a white co-worker told me that he use to live in Philadelphia, until a black family moved next door. He said his father told them to start packing because they are moving because he is not living next door to any black people. They moved to Mt Airy suburban section of Philadelphia, until a black family moved near them, he moved his family again. His father told him; “every time a black family move near me, I am going to move, even if I can’t afford it”. I also experience racial tension from some whites. It was the year 1987, I was eight months pregnant and my husband and I wanted to buy a house in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. We were told that the house was ours and we were happy. The next day, we received a call telling us that they could not sell the house to us because the whole block consisted of all white families. The neighbors told them if they sell those blacks the house they will break every window in the house out. I encountered more incidents of racism in Philadelphia this century than any other time in my life. To make a long story short, Philadelphia is known for division between black and white Cultures. Moreover, people of other races categorizes other races as a whole. People with small minds will not think for themselves, because they will label everyone of a particular race from an experience they had with one or a group of people of a certain race. One or two people do not make a race of people. There are bad people in every race.

  12. I moved here in 2011 and I am praying for the day that I can pack up and move. I am from Massachusetts and I have lived in DC and Maryland. I have never experienced racism at the level that I have experienced it here. I live in Center City and I went to college, so I have no friends here. All of the “educated” blacks live in the suburbs. I can’t make friends because I live in an area of center city where white epitope live and I get eye rolls and folks running to get away from on the sidewalk. I am 5′ tall and work in a professional office, so I’m not looking homeless or anything. I go out of town to visit friends. Only a few of them will come here to visit because they hate it. I can’t continue to live in a place where ignorance is readily acceptable. Good luck to you all.

  13. I am an Indian and was living near Philly Chestnut hill Village area which I knew a place with good neighborhood. But here Black people just openly hate Asian and never miss a chance to curse or use slang loudly. Just claim its there place and we should be kicked out. This attitude is present in all age group and had to leave for my kids. They think all other races are the reason for the problems of their lives and if everyone leaves, issues will be resolved. Strange. I have been lot of places but never faced something like this.

  14. I want to say that I agree with the comment that you are ignorant, madame author. If you feel uncomfortable around a higher number of “blacks” who are confident and unapologetic to your race in any way, this is not their ignorance. Blacks cannot live in the cities, towns, and sometimes states that you can. Their ancestors was hung in those towns and today “sundown towns” still exist. If you are not comfortable around the blacks in Philly, move to any of the other places in this racist country that favors your color above others allow you to. As a black (this is a color btw not what I am) woman who grew up in Philly, I know what you mean. I was living there when move bombed the black organization house burning down a entire neighborhood. I remember a young single black mother whose house was labeled with racial slurs and she was forced to move out of the neighborhood. I had a WHITE girlfriend who had a black boyfriend and mix kids in Port Richmond whose house was vandalized and car etc. just because she was with a black. He actually fought the neighbors several times and was thrown in jail and released many times and finally the whites left them alone. When my family moved in the Logan area, our neighbors started moving out, and as a kid, the white kids was my friend. Their parents was the ones who moved them away. When I went to school in the Northeast, their was protest about the “black kids being bused out to their neighborhood” . I can go on and on about the prejudice episodes I seen and experienced first hand from WHITES as I grew up in this city.
    Now you second guess sending your son to 19th and Diamond….really now? lol.. I remember when that was all blacks in those houses. A white person would have not dared walk in that neighborhood. But the whites wanted those large homes and uprooted the black community to make them be homes for their kids to go to college. The black families who lived there had to move away and fend for themselves. Yet, they cannot afford to live in the neighborhoods meant for your kind. Cops would be called and threats made if they are caught in your neighborhoods.
    So let the blacks alone in “center city”. They see their kinfolk and know how they struggled. They know that your white skin will give you a pass to get anything you want in this world, you have the OPTION to live in a small town with a nice yard, they don’t. Your son is living in a black persons house from 1970 or 1980. That poor family is long gone and cannot live when you do.
    So get over it and think about those you secretly want to get away from.

  15. And to the black woman who feels sorry for being born black and that said the blacks in Philly are mentally ill…..listen honey, your ancestors was brought over here to be SLAVES, ABUSED, RAPED, MURDERED, CASTRATED, LYNCHED AND DISENFRANCHISED, NOT ALLOWED TO BE EDUCATED, AND GIVEN NO EMPATHY OR SYMPATHY….and the ones who did this was WHITES… ANYONE WHO DO THESE THINGS TO ANYONE IS MENTALLY ILL….not you or your kind. If blacks are mentally ill, who can blame them. But whites need to see that these demonic behaviors came from their ancestors and STILL live inside of them. Just because the system favor them does not mean they or the system is right. It was SET UP FROM THE START TO DISADVANTAGE BLACKS. Remember your true ancestors date way back to the bible, the first creation was black (dust is what adam came from soil….not lily white paste skin), God himself is black, the true Israelites are and was black, All of EGYPT was black your bloodline is royal yet stolen…unjustly. Only God will level things out. So keep your head up, stay SANE, be the change as GHANDI said and never forget who you are….

    And to any racist, salty white person who want to get all agitated from my comments, it does not surprise me one bit. You was born into the false lies of your mentally psychotic ancestors who made sure you had the good s from their stolen and criminal, deviant schemes.

    Keep being lessors as you all are keep being salty because with all that you all have, you still are jealous of who you call lessor, and why?
    The answer is obvious, and will always be. We are the true children of God. And you of the Devil…repent and try to be Gentiles.or stay ignorant and hateful and follow your fathers.

  16. I was born in Philadelphia and lived here (and in the burbs of Springfield, Delco for a few years) from 1950 through 1970. I then moved to Manhattan where I lived for the next 40 plus years. I have been dismayed and continually surprised at the boorish, gratuitously hateful and sometimes obviously racist behavior and attitudes of many of the inhabitants of Philadelphia since I moved back here a few years ago. Manhattan almost always seemed like a melting pot during my years there. Regardless of the differences in income, race, vocations, religion, etc. there was something about the basic need to at least pretend to get along due to the daily pressure cooker experience of just simply trying to survive in a difficult environment that kind of made everybody less prone to act out and begrudgingly tolerate one another. Philadelphia is a city made of many neighborhoods and many tribes and nothing about this town seems to pull any of these different groups together. And the painful disparity between the haves and the have nots here has helped keep this city, in my opinion, as socially dysfunctional as it is. The racism of both whites and blacks towards each other in Philadelphia has frankly startled me. I must have been largely and stupidly unaware of this regrettable side of this town when I was younger. I suspect I was too busy being a kid cocooned in my own seperate, segregated worlds of Port Richmond and East Germantown in the 50’s and 60’s and later in Springfield to really understand the sad racist history of Philadelphia back in the day. I am now strongly considering moving out of Philadelphia, knowing full and well I will never find a part of America that is not untouched by stupidity and racism. But maybe I can be somewhere where walking the streets, using public transportation and simply encountering other people will be a bit less fraught with unnecessary anger and hate. This is sad. I love Philadelphia. But Philadelphians are a drag.

  17. Is this for real??? While I can not speak for every black person in Philadelphia, I will say you could never understand my plight. I am not angry with you, but I will always remember the injustices my people encountered by people in positions of power– who in this town are mostly white– who chose to abuse their power by implementing rules and regulations designed to hinder an entire community. I may associate these acts with you when I see because of your skin color, and yes that is wrong, but this is something I encounter everyday as a black women. I do not apologize on behalf of my people for making you feel unwelcome in a Mcdonalds, that is unless you are going to apologize to me for gentrification, affirmative action, and all of the other bullsh*t you think is a welcome change when i see it as just another wrong you are trying to force me to except. Philadelphia is a beautifully diverse city who’s image is being dragged through the mud by a person who is not even from here. Every city has racial divisions , class divisions, and people tend to flock towards the people they have most in common with. Now this is simply my opinion, but I think it is unfair to say Philly has more racism than any other city

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