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Phil Milano: Beyond the Sniping About P.C.



What reaction might you get if you asked black people why their lips are so big?

Or an Indian woman why she wears the dot on her forehead? Or a white person if they smell like wet dogs after a few minutes in the rain?

Phil Milano has been having these kinds of conversations for years, in an online community called Y? The National Forum on People's Differences -- a judgement-free corner of cyberspace, where people can ask the kind of cross-cultural questions they've always wanted to pose, but were too afraid to ask.

I first met Phil more than ten years ago, when he offered me a job. Then working as a recruiter for the Florida Times-Union, he was hoping to hire the Jacksonville paper's first black music critic in me. And when I told him Jacksonville felt too much like a lateral move, he mentioned a music writing gig opening up at a paper across the state, the St. Petersburg Times.

Even then, I could tell Phil was the kind of guy who was fearless about talking across race. Not like so many people who claim to oppose political correctness, when all they really want is the freedom to disregard the sensitivities and perspective of other cultures. Phil wanted to cut through the clutter in a constructive way -- respecting others' sensibilities while challenging people on both sides of the conversation to ask the questions really on their minds.

Way too smart to stay at the Times Union, Phil has since spun his ideas off into a book, I Can't Belive You Asked That, and a regular column, Dare to Ask, which appears in more than 30 newspapers in 14 states.

A typical column features a question -- "I've noticed white people don't have rhythm when it comes to dancing," was a recent one -- with replies from the mostly-young folks on his online forum and then an authoritative answer from an expert (on dancing, Phil quotes choreographer Wade Robson saying black folks are more improvisational and white folks more technical).

I mention all this because, on this anniversary of Martin Luther King's Birthday, there are still precious few media sources focused on connecting people rather than dividing them. People are so busy feeling aggrieved, persecuted and put-upon -- often for very good reason -- there's not much percentage in trying to unite them, anymore.

But Phil's trying. Through a number of platforms. So check one or two out, and you just might learn that the question you've always wanted to ask wasn't such a dumb notion after all...


Their heart is in the right place, but the good folks at the Seattle office of mega-advertising agency DDB Worldwide have hit a clunker with their online evocation of segregation. Click through and you'll see their ham-handed attempt to re-create Jim Crow days online, before ushering you to a snazzy site filled with info on the Civil Rights Movement and MLK. Mailers encourage white folks to open one side of the letter and black folks another.

Wonder if they will be open for business today?


Recent words by E.W. Scripps Co. chief executive Ken Lowe that running TV stations is "not something we're necessarily wed to" has caused a flurry of rumors, particularly in the Tampa Bay area where industry types have expected a sale of low-rated Scripps station WFTS for many years.

To be fair, Scripps has always supported WFTS, despite its status as fourth among the four network affiliates in our market (doesn't help that Sarasota's ABC affiliate, WWSB, takes about 10 percent of Action News' audience). But if Scripps puts WFTS in play, companies which already own news-producing stations here might decide to create a duopoly by acquiring the station -- which would almost certainly cost jobs.

A doomsday scenario to be sure. But one that will likely keep many local TV industry types awake nights, trying to figure all the angles.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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