Race card being played in Philly?

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One of the big news stories in Philadelphia this week has to do with the fallout from a series of controversial exchanges between a city councilman’s aide and a local broadcast journalist.

The controversy pivots on the fact that the aide, a black woman, held up a handwritten sign during a council meeting accusing the journalist and his station, Fox29, of racism. One of the makeshift signs read “Jeff Cole KKK.” Cole is the journalist in question, and he’d been targeting the aide, Latrice Bryant, as part of an ongoing probe into allegedly falsified time sheets at City Hall.

If you don’t know about the story, Fox29’s version of things (above) includes videotape of the two hastily made signs (ostensibly flashed to shame the cameraman into turning off the camera) and of Bryant’s boss, Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr., chiding Cole by telling him, “don’t you ever disrespect a black woman like that again.”

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Annette John-Hall did a great job trying to make sense of the entire affair, what she calls “The Loose Leaf Race Card,” a phrase she deploys quite hesitantly. “Usually, I hate the term race card,” she writes. “Overused and misused, it’s an offensive catch-all preemptively thrown out to dismiss any valid concerns about race. Accuse someone of playing the race card, conversation over.”

But she admits that Bryant seems to be invoking race in less than productive ways. John-Hall also chatted with me briefly before her piece on the case, and she quotes me making a similar point: “It really does do a disservice to the more serious and subtle forms of racism people encounter every day.”

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