Let’s Talk About Race, East Falls

BOOM! Larry Benjamin blows up local social media again  — recounting experiences with neighborhood racism, and tangling with “Mo” from the peanut gallery NextDoor.  A brutally frank conversation between two sides of the race divide in East Falls. 

EastFallsLocal star trek halloween meme

If you’ve been following EFL, you’ll know about local author and EFCC wildcard Larry Benjamin who cheerfully singled himself out as the group’s black, gay token in an explosive “tell all” post on his popular blog. When we shared his observations on fear and entitlement (plus adultery & alcoholism!), jaws dropped around the neighborhood — attracting the attention of our area’s most enthusiastic online troll, a guy we’ll call “Mo.”

Mo’s white but from an area of Germantown near the recently-imploded Queen Lane high-rise. Growing up a small, quiet kid, he was a vulnerable minority, enduring much abuse from “neighborhood thugs.”

Now, he owns a home near Apollos pizza and spends his spare time saying squirmy things in online forums, particularly NextDoor but also PhillySpeaks, Reddit, and even personal blogs like Larry’s, where he discovered a screenshot of his latest offensive declarations:

EastFallsLocal collage morgan nextdoor post logo

D’oh! Larry’s post entitled “Racism Wearing a New Hat Rears Its Ugly Head” addresses subtle discrimination here, where old habits die hard:  neighbors still note his Henry Avenue house as the one where the community’s first black homeowners lived — although the Moodys have been gone a decade.

The “Moody House” is Larry’s second East Falls home. He and husband Stanley lived together first on Vaux street in the early 2000’s. That Halloween, a flyer appeared under their door, announcing trick-or-treating for the neighborhood would be a week earlier than the 31st. OK, then… 

EastFallsLocal collage moody house henry ave pumkin impact text

Flash forward several years, when younger transplants called out the practice as racist — evidently started when some residents balked at giving out candy to “the Abbottsford kids” who, they felt, aggressively swarmed the streets. (This un-Halloweenish practice is evidently a thing, particularly in areas of racial tension.)

East Falls’ Halloween may have desegregated, but Mo’s post earlier this month signaled to Larry that the same disturbing currents of racism still thrive here now, couched in careful talk among believers.

EastFallsLocal collage why would you find my post disturbting

In his near-immediate rebuttal, Mo disagreed that such prejudice was always unwarranted — and wanted to discuss in more detail what about his post, exactly, Larry found so troubling:

“I simply stated out loud what anybody with simple powers of observation can see right in front of them… White people are afraid to send their kids to a black school, yet the only reason a school is ‘black’ is because of this.

“I could write an entire book on the racially-motivated violence and intimidation I faced as a white kid growing up in Germantown. Of course I could also write another book on all the friendships I had as well. …Black people do not have a monopoly on the harms caused to them by racial and ethnic conflict…

“You complain of racism lurking in the shadows, yet my relatively benign post on Nextdoor was posted out in the open. Which do you prefer?” 

EastFallsLocal collage you complain of racism lurking

Dant DANT! Larry not only took the bait, but pan fried it with a little sass:

“Oh honey, as a black, gay kid who went to mostly white schools at a time when bullying was seen as mere ‘teasing,’ I could write two books. 

“… (the piece’s title) hearkens back to what has been said before, much like the discussions of race which lead nowhere but trace the same track over and over, kicking up controversy and stomping opinions into something hard and unyielding. 

“If you follow the thread of racism in the article you’ll notice that — some things have changed (Halloween, for example) and, others have not.” 

But Mo wasn’t done talking about Mifflin — a sore spot among many of us without kids, who regularly lose friends to the suburbs when their children reach school age.

“I did not mean to imply that you were among the willfully ignorant regarding the demographic situation at Mifflin… I was speaking of the great mass of cowardly whites who invent all manner of excuses as to why they don’t want to send their kids there.” 

EastFallsLocal collage great mass of cowardly

Oh no he di’int! As his two-part response continued, though, Mo the Troll opened up about personal childhood trauma, and seemed to be struggling to reconcile his fears & memories with his progressive-minded peers.

“Economic suffering aside, almost all of the interracial violence I have seen or personally experienced has been black thugs attacking innocent white victims… ” 

“Racially-motivated attacks against whites, at the very least a weekly occurrence in any US city, are almost always ignored by the media. But that’s to be expected because Pettus Bridge. This is a huge part of the reason why we have a bunch of angry white guys who might actually elect an imbecilic reality TV star for president…”

EastFallsLocal collage physically assaulted “I was physically assaulted by kids who were most likely from the projects, confirming the ‘irrational’ fears of your evil racist neighbors. For this, nobody cares. Because Medgar Evers…” 

“Prejudice is the result of postjudice. Previous experiences shape how we proceed… We depend on this for survival, yet a lot of us also wind up dead for the very same reason. I wish I had the answer… ” 

EastFallsLocal collage all a product of our experience

Mo’s honesty helped Larry reframe his initial reaction (“I get why you said what you did,”) and shared his own Halloween story: how his proud parents didn’t let him “beg” for candy. He admitted he didn’t suffer racially like Mo did growing up, and cut him some slack:

“Agreed. We are all a product of our experience. Sometimes we need to let that experience go. Other times, we cannot and should not. Knowing how your experiences colored your original post, I’m less disturbed by what you said; now I’m just disturbed you’ve had the experiences you’ve had.” 

EastFallsLocal collage thank you pussy

And then they thanked each other for not being pussies, which perhaps really is the only way to end an honest conversation on race in East Falls. (We thank them too!)

What do you think? Before you answer, you’ll want to read the entire discussion and Larry’s original blog post — and maybe sign up for NextDoor East Falls so you can witness Mo’s “jimmie rustling” in the most controversial threads of the moment.
EastFallsLocal Extended MORE lets get this outta our system
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2 Comments

  • Meg Newsome

    Caroline: Just want to add that the “white Halloween” you speak of coincided with the Annual Halloween Party that took place at McDevitt Playground. This party happened for most of my childhood (90’s) and was always the Friday night before Halloween. If Halloween fell on a Friday, the party was held the week before. The party was open to the entire neighborhood (all races included). There was a costume parade and small prizes given to kids for best costume, etc. Families would trick or treat earlier in the evening and then head to McDevitt for the annual party.

    Last year, some friends and I (all kids who grew up in EF and attended the Halloween Party in our youth) tried to bring it back. We were informed the party was funded from a day program that was held at McDevitt years ago (and no longer exists). Tom McNicholas was open to the idea of bringing the Halloween Party back, but needed to do some research with the City of Philadelphia. We also did not allow enough time for planning and the gym was being painted around Halloween. Obviously we’d need funding, but Tom told us to get in touch over the summer of this year to see if its feasible.

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