is no longer that close-knit old school “tough-as-nail”
Irish Catholic enclave. But the historical memory still lingers
because, in my opinion, stereotypes about class makes it easier to
point the pox of racism at Southie, a hardscrabble community, than at
liberal Cambridge where I reside, or at a tony suburb, like
Wellesley, where I attended undergrad.
Boston is a
“city of champions.” The appellation is not only about
its dominance in sports. It’s about Boston being one of the
country’s leading medical and academic hubs, too.
prides itself as a “city upon a hill” and it’s
noted for a lot of firsts. For example, Boston Latin, established in
1635, was the first public school. Boston hosted the first World
Series - the Red Sox took on the Pirates - in 1903. The first organ
transplant was in 1954 at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. The Boston
Marathon - the city’s crown jewel - was the first marathon in
the United States in 1897.
educational hub and its rich African American heritage are what drew
1800’s Boston was the best city to be black in America. It was
the epicenter of the country’s Abolitionist Movement, playing a
major role in the Underground Railroad. And, it had the largest free
African American population in the country, most these residents
lived on the North Slope of Beacon Hill where now placards
commemorating the neighborhood’s luminaries are dotted up and
down its streets I walk today to attend functions at the African
American Museum, the country’s first.
Lauded as one
of the bluest states in the country with an activist court that has
always been forward thinking I thought Boston would be one of the
better cities for minorities like myself - LGBTQ, people of color,
women, to call its second home.
quickly learned Boston has an inglorious history, too.
comedian Michael Che joked during a
pre-Super Bowl “Weekend Update” segment on
Saturday Night Live that Boston is one of “the most
racist city I’ve ever been to” Che had no idea that he
hit the city’s third rail. Nearly two months later and during
an appearance at Boston University his controversial statement
still simmered for many Bostonians, receiving criticism both from his
audience and on social media when he refused to recant or apologize.
is no way to quantify how racist Boston is. I thought, however, a
good indicator of Boston’s racial intolerance might be to look
at the backlash Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham received from
op-ed “Yes, Boston, you are racist” defending Che had to
be followed by another “In Boston, less racism is still racism”
because of the volume of outrage over the first one.
Latin School is a magnet school, attracting the city’s best and
brightest. The school, however, is now under two investigations- the
School Department’s Office of Equity and the U. S. Justice
Department- and in the news. BLS’s black activist group took to
social media, using the hashtag #BlackAtBls and YouTube, to expose
the school’s racial climate -its turning point being an
incident involving a white student threatening to lynch a black
female, and the school administration neither informed the girl’s
parents nor took swift disciplinary action against the white student.
Boston Latin School sits in a district where 77 percent of its
school-aged children are black and Latino. The school’s
percentage of blacks are 8.5
percent and 11.6 percent for Latinos. Today at Boston Latin,
black and Latino enrollment is half of what it was two decades ago.
That’s a step - maybe two or three steps – backward.
A past event
indelibly etched in people’s memory- here and abroad- is
Stanley Forman’s infamous 1976 photo titled “The Soiling
of Old Glory.” It shows a young white male attacking an African
American man using the pointy end of a flagpole, as a spear, with the
American flag attached at City Hall Plaza. The photograph went viral,
revealing to the shock of the world Boston’s busing crisis. It
placed the city on the map as one of “the racist” for
hiding under its “liberal facade” yet being one of the
last holdouts to desegregate its schools after the historic Brown v.
Board of Education Supreme
Court ruling in 1954.
some, Boston's bussing crisis is the city’s old past. South
Boston, which was front and center in the battle, is no longer that
close-knit old school “tough-as-nail” Irish
Catholic enclave. “Southie,” as it is still fondly
referred to, houses the world today flaunting some of the best
restaurants and expensive housing in the city. But the historical
memory of that horrific era still lingers because, in my opinion,
stereotypes about class makes it easier to point the pox of racism at
Southie, a hardscrabble community, than at liberal Cambridge where I
reside, or at a tony suburb, like Wellesley, where I attended
address the challenge to provide educational parity for all of
Boston’s school-aged children, Boston’s white and less
financially strapped populations, like that of South Boston in the
1970’s, solved their neighborhood school desegregation crisis
by fleeing to the suburbs, leaving a high concentration of its urban
schools in both poverty and in disrepair.
doesn’t have as direct “school-to-prison pipeline”
like many other major urban cities across the country, “Boston
Globe” reported that there is zero-tolerance
in Massachusetts when it comes to disciplining students of
color which leads to repeated arrests and then evidently
incarceration. Massachusetts African American school-aged children
are disciplined, expelled and suspended four times more like than
white children and Latinos school-aged are three times as likely.
Renee Graham tried to point out the racial disparities that persist
in Boston, the reaction from the internet was swift and brutal.
of the comments pointedly accused Graham and black people as being
racists, too -“Racism is a two way street.” Other
comments accused blacks using the race card for not embracing
Boston’s Irish culture. The kinder responses were aghast by
Graham’s op-ed, because they either had black friends,
communicated cordially with black office mates, would date outside
their race or had a black neighbor. Many of the comments, however,
were blocked. Readers, like myself, wished this one from Jeff N. to
Graham was, too:
you want to know why everyone hates you n****rs, your article is a
good reason why. Better yet, take a trip to Roxbury, you might find
your answer there as well.”
comments are proof that Boston’s racial past is not dead. It’s
not even the past.