Well all right then, Pennsylvania

I lived in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, for a number of years, and while there were some things I loved about the place, there were others that I thought less than savory. One was that the city boasted about being a “city of neighborhoods”, where there were distinct divisions with distinct ethnic character — this place was Italian, that one is Dominican, that one over there is black, etc. The suburb where I lived was predominantly Ukrainian. Character is good, diversity is great, but I always felt like it was bragging about being segregated, and it also meant that some neighborhoods were terribly poor and dilapidated, next to others that were very tony and posh, and it was like there was a wall between them that you could not cross.

So I’m not surprised that when the wife of the lieutenant governor of the state (a Democrat) made a quick trip to the grocery store without a security escort, she was verbally assaulted and harassed.

Not everyone in Pennsylvania is like that woman, but one of the things I most disliked about the place is that it enabled residents to be perfectly comfortable with all kinds of hatreds. Now our president is working hard to make the entire country comfortable with casual racism. That harasser showed no shame about using racist slurs, and that’s where we’re headed now.


  1. PaulBC says

    One was that the city boasted about being a “city of neighborhoods”

    Yeah, that is a weird one. They do make that boast, and I think it means exactly what you think it does. If you come into our neighborhood, we’ll beat you up. City of Brotherly Love and all that.

    I grew up in the suburbs and never really felt acculturated to that part of it. (The Italian rolls used for cheesesteaks still cannot be duplicated elsewhere.) I’d rather be in Philadelphia than in large swaths of the US, but I doubt I’d go back.

  2. PaulBC says

    The scary part is that Philly is the “good” part of the state. Rural Pennsylvania is another place entirely.

  3. says

    For those who don’t know, just to provide more context, Gisele Fetterman was born in Brazil. Her family fled because of crime, and she was undocumented for a time. So I assume that’s what the woman was yelling about. I went to college in the Philadelphia area and was a community organizer in the city as a youth, so I know it well. I don’t have a problem with ethnic enclaves — they create a landscape of different cultural environments, and you can enjoy their distinctive character. Nobody ever had a problem with me being in their neighborhood, it is not the case if you come into our neighborhood, we’ll beat you up. The exception I would say at that time was Fishtown, a low income white neighborhood that was extremely racist and yeah, I don’t think Black people would want to go there. I think it has changed since then, though.

  4. wzrd1 says

    Laughably, the city of neighborhoods was by design by William Penn. With an entirely different mindset in his mind, rather than the rejection of “foreigners” to the neighborhood and the “You don’t belong here” mentality.

  5. dianne says

    I live in Philly and recently took a masked and socially distanced trip in the nearby burbs and rural areas. It is heavily contested territory, with both Trump and Biden signs all over the place. It’s a strange and sometimes horrific state, but not utterly hopeless.

  6. whheydt says

    My parents lived outside of Philadelphia, in Chester, for most of WW2. My father was an instructor at the Maritime Service Turbo-electric School there until it was shut down after the war. At that point, he was transferred to the MS Training Center at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, NY. (Just across the bay from what was then called Idylwild Field.)

  7. Bruce Fuentes says

    I pretty much grew up in PA. From when I was 5 till 16. We moved away in 1978. This was in the Scranton area. Racism was alive and well back then. When we moved there in 1966 the company my father was going to work for hired a person to help my parents find a place to live. Evidently the guy never looked at my parents name, because he mad a comment that my parents would love an area they were looking at because that don not rent or sell to Puerto Rican’s and n-word. He may have used the derogatory term for hispanics. I am sure things have changed, but probably not a whole lot. One of my racist brothers, yes they are1/2 Puerto Rican and raging racists, still lives in the general are.
    I remember PA being like PZ says. Very distinct areas of a particular ethnic group.

  8. stroppy says

    cervantes @ 3

    “So I assume that’s what the woman was yelling about.”

    Skin tone was certainly a factor. Turn the volume way up and there’s the ‘n’ word.

  9. says

    The population of rural PA maps the waves of immigrants brought in to break strikes in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem. There are also lots of families in small clusters around where coal mines used to be. Some of them pine for the mining and voted Trump when he said he’d bring back coal. (Never mind that its not cost-effective so those jobs are gone forever) Pittsburgh’s strip district is a wonderful mix of Polish foods, Italian meats and pastries, Jamaican coffees and Vietnamese and Chinese street foods. The urban areas of PA aren’t bad but in the countryside it’s like Kentucky or Tennessee. There are KKK hives but they keep their heads down but most small towns have no race issues because they’re all white all christian. It’s the intersection of race and classism.

  10. PaulBC says

    @11 I went to Penn State many years ago and have fond memories of “Happy Valley” but Pennsylvania is a much stranger place than it’s given credit for. I haven’t spent enough time in Pittsburgh to get a real feel for it, but your description sounds about right.

  11. dianne says

    Marcus @10: Trump isn’t even bothering in Philadelphia. As far as I can tell, Biden’s concentrating on getting the vote out in the cities as much as possible with some emphasis on convincing the suburbs, where people can be convinced, as well. Rural PA is just a lost cause.

  12. gnokgnoh says

    Good grief, Philly is about as diverse as you can get in any city in the U.S. Many of the older neighborhoods in the far Northeast are still quite ethnically homogenous, but most of South, West, and Northwest Philly are becoming quite diverse, more so than even 20 or 30 years ago.

    Some examples: East Falls, Germantown, Mt. Airy, and East Mount Airy were always racially and ethnically diverse communities and are still that way today. Chestnut Hill, the toniest of the bunch is still mostly (67%) white, but changing. West Philly has been invaded by the ever-expanding UPenn and Drexel, but neighborhoods such as Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, and Overbrook are very diverse. South Philly had perhaps the most ethnically segregated neighborhoods in the city, but that has changed in the last 20 years, mostly due to gentrification of millennials and professionals from Center City, which has greatly pushed home prices up, but also changed those neighborhoods, Passyunk, Point Breeze, Grays Ferry, many for the better. The same phenomenon is happening in South Fishtown, pushing over into Poplar just Northeast of Center City, although Fishtown, historically composed of Catholic immigrants, is still mostly white working class. Port Richmond also has a long way to go…

    I’m from Philly, you needed to get out more when you were here…a video of a racist woman should not indict an entire city.

  13. komarov says

    If you turn the optimism knob all the way to 56 – ignore the cracking sound and the bits of plastic dropping out – you can pretend that woman is pulling the mask aside so people with impaired hearing can still lip-read. This would make her a veritable beacon of inclusivity, instead of a racist twit who also failed to understand just how masks are supposed to work.

    Having done that you’d now need to reset any fuses an replace the entire optimism amplifier assembly. This will not be cheap as you’ve just voided your warranty. But don’t fret because you don’t actually need it at all in this day an age.

  14. James Fehlinger says

    There was a recent article in the New York Times about
    the crazy state of politics in Delaware (where I grew up —
    in northernmost, “civilized” New Castle County)
    ( https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/04/us/politics/biden-republicans-delaware.html
    In Biden’s Home State, Republican Centrism Gives Way to the Fringe),
    in which Delaware is described as “Massachusetts bolted onto Oklahoma”.

    I mentioned this to a friend, who replied that Pennsylvania
    (the state I was actually born in) has been described as
    “Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the
    other end, Mississippi in the middle”. (Google seems to
    suggest that observation has been attributed to
    Robert Kennedy.)

  15. Marissa van Eck says

    I spent one of the worst years of my life, and THAT is saying something, in Erie. Just…whoooo, boy.

  16. PaulBC says

    @18 I met people from all over PA in college in the 80s. The line I heard from a native was “Dreary Erie, the mistake on the lake.” (Though I think the latter has been applied to other spots.) Had a friend from Johnstown too, and he seemed about as eager to get out as you’d expect (from the place famous only for flooding). Scranton too. Places that seem OK are Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, even Bethlehem-Allentown, and Harrisburg. Aside from the immediate rural parts of Centre County who went to Penn State, there were not many people from other parts of PA that I can recall. I remember a student who had Punxsutawney on the back of her old letter jacket, but I didn’t know her well. And someone I was told had been awarded “Lamb Wool Queen” somewhere or other, so I guess that was rural.

    Except that my knowledge is about 30 years out of date, I should probably offer my services to the Biden campaign. Pretty sure I know the state better than they do (and the parts I don’t, they can write off anyway).

  17. DanDare says

    I have friends that love tracing ancestry.
    What they don’t seem to notoce is they get caught up in the idea that their genes own their memes, and theor memes own them.
    Born to a catholic family, you are catholic. Born into an italian culture, you are italian.
    Keeping cultural memes distinct is impossible unless you isolate and try to prevent defectors, like the Amish. Or you can dominate and set other cultures into enclaves.
    I refuse to play out my “heritage” just to be an exhibit for others. I rather think life through and build tone and style as it lands.

  18. BrianInCentralPA says

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I live in York County, in South Central PA. It’s Trump Country here. I strolled up to my polling place on a sunny morning in 2016, ready to get rid of this Donald Trump shit once and for all, only to find I was the only person in line not wearing MAGA stuff.

    There are a lot more Biden signs than there were Hillary signs in 2016, and Dems have an opportunity to pick up 1 US house seat and at least one of the local state senate seats that crosses several counties, both currently held by Republicans. But it’s a hard fight. There is only 1 State House member from York County who is not a Republican, and she has a tough fight, and no county-level offices are held by Dems (except for 1 commissioner seat that automatically goes to a minority party).

    I’ve volunteered to hand out lit at the polling place for Democratic candidates, and I’ve been called every insult in the book. I never noticed it being this bad here, but it’s really ugly in the age of these openly-nasty, Trumpy candidates. The veneer of civility has been ripped away.

    Fetterman is a good Lt. Governor! I hope he’s our next US Senator or Governor.

  19. PaulBC says

    @21 I haven’t lived in PA in over 30 years but I still have a lot of family in the Philly area. Fetterman really does seem like a good guy in general.

    It pissed me off that PA went for Trump in 2016. It’s encouraging that it won’t repeat itself. I think the big Hillary factor is that so many people just despised her, whether it was pure misogyny or the effect of a billion dollar smear campaign over two decades. There were also those who just could not vote for a “neoliberal” who was tight with Wall Street, etc., etc. They may not be voting for Biden either and it’s their choice. But the fact that he is not despised viscerally across the political spectrum is a big plus.

    (Me, I never had a big problem with Hillary Clinton at least on domestic policy. The Kissinger thing made me throw up a little in my mouth as they say, but sheesh, it was a clear choice and she would have been a smart and hardworking president.)

  20. mcfrank0 says

    Having grown up in a Philly suburb and having lived in Chicago for over thirty years before moving to Texas, I can firmly aver that both are “cities of neighborhoods”. However, the character and boundaries of Chicago’s neighborhoods have proven very flexible and subject to some profound evolution over time, often with the “assistance” of the real estate industry.

  21. imback says

    Note that incident with the lieutenant governor’s wife happened at a grocery store near Braddock PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh and far from Philadelphia. Still, Pittsburgh also has some pretty segregated neighborhoods.

    @17, re Delaware being “Massachusetts bolted onto Oklahoma”
    I just got back from a week at Rehoboth Beach in Sussex County, Delaware’s southernmost. It was more a bicycle trip than a beach trip. I noticed all Biden signs in Rehoboth (on the ocean) and Lewes (on the bay), but in the inland countryside it was mostly Trump signs, while in the inland towns like Georgetown and Milton, it was mixed. Sussex County is undergoing a population boom, so I suspect its character is becoming less Oklahoma-like. Still well more than half Delaware’s population live in New Castle County (where I went to the U of D in the early 70s), so there’s no way Biden’s not carrying his home state. Back home in northern Virginia, I don’t see very many signs at all, but that doesn’t mean little enthusiasm. Early voting started last month, and I and many of the people I know have already voted.