I used to dread going to up to Boston. It was always something with that town and me, none of it good.
I lived in Providence, RI for many years, first as a college student in the 1980s, then as a young entrepreneur and budding museum curator. Providence had its own serious problems with race, and so did I. But I loved it there. The city was so small, it felt like barely a smudge on the way to more glamorous New England locations. Because it seemed so familiar, most incidents I experienced felt manageable. I typically never felt hated, exactly, just misunderstood. I mostly felt embraced.
But travel up the turnpike to Boston, with its working-class tensions and impenetrable Brahmin entitlement, and even a mundane encounter could leave a permanent mark.
On Sunday, the famous Boston Globe Spotlight investigative team published the first of seven installments in a series on race, seeking to discover whether the city’s reputation for racism was fair and still deserved.
All signs point to yes:
They literally counted black people. That’s a pretty big clue as to what’s coming next.
The Spotlight team became nationally famous for their 2002 series on sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by the Catholic Church in Boston-area parishes. They won a Pulitzer the next year. The film based on their investigation won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscars in 2015, and once again helped bring their work to a national audience.
While openly racist violence may be on the decline, other markers remain troubling.
In their introduction, they shared a quick comparison of economic stats from a report on racial inequities in the greater Boston area published by Globe reporters in 1983:
So, there is lots of room for improvement.
Thinking about Boston made me suddenly realize how much of an impact the city had on me in my twenties. The times I’d been called racist names on the street. Sexually harassed by cops on Mass Ave. Racist questions asked by potential business partners —“Did you know who your father was?” Asked to leave establishments that were suddenly “whites only.” (Although one was in Newport, RI, to be fair.) And then there was the time I was physically barred from entering a friend’s Back Bay condo by a neighbor who hissed that the “janitor’s daughter didn’t belong here.” She literally sank her nails into my arm. Yes, she left a mark, inside and out.
I suppose I’ll save the really bad stuff for another column.
I’ll give the last word to Bridgit Brown, who speaks to the Boston of today. She’s a communications specialist in Dorchester, and told the Globe that her experience is characterized by a distinct form of loneliness. Most places she goes, including as a leader at work, she’s the only one who looks like her. “You’re aware of the racism. You’re aware of the subtleties. It’s like the air we breathe, if you’re black,” she says.
Not the progress I was hoping for.
On a side note, I’d love to be the business journalist who profiles the first black professional who makes it into the New Vault. But that would require going back to Boston, wouldn’t it?
|Let’s pick on another city for a hot minute. A new report issued by Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) finds that racial discrimination is largely unaddressed throughout Brussels, the EU power center, an experience borne out by reporting from Politico’s European edition. For one, large EU governing institutions and governments rarely collect data about race, while preferring to focus diversity efforts on gender, nationality, and age. A mashup of data suggests that some ten percent of the EU population is an ethnic minority, “[a]nd yet, the best estimates — by those working on racial and religious diversity — put the minority population directly employed by EU institutions at around 1 percent.” All of this has real implications – not only for how minority staff is treated, but how important decisions are made.|
|What you need to know about black voter suppression in Alabama|
|Two important pieces were making the rounds this weekend, highlighting systemic issues in Alabama, and flagging possible reasons for low black voter turnout ahead of Tuesday’s controversial Senate race. The first is from October 2015, which reported on the closing of 31 driver’s license offices in mostly black counties. “Coming after the state recently put into effect a tougher voter ID law, the closures will cut off access…” This more recent one from Vann Newkirk digs much deeper into other barriers – no early voting, no same day registration, no no-fault absentee voting — that are uniquely hard on black voters. “It’s also just likely that implementing more restrictive voter laws chills faith in the system and turnout among people who’ve always been on the margins.”|
|The trouble with Taylor Swift|
|The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman offers a pointed critique of TIME’s decision to put Taylor Swift on the cover as part of their Person of The Year Coverage on “the silence breakers.” At issue is not whether her lawsuit against a DJ who groped her was brave and inspiring to young women, it was both — but whether she has really behaved as an advocate. Zimmerman thinks not. She doesn’t march, she doesn’t call out high profile abusers, and she has experienced no consequences. “Women like Ashley Judd, one of the first women to come forward against Harvey Weinstein on the record, have had silence imposed upon them,” she writes. And then there is her problematic refusal to disavow her many white supremacist fans, and her literal attempts to silence people who call it out. “[T]o call Swift a feminist ‘silence breaker’ is a bold erasure of every time she’s failed to show up or speak out for women in the past.”|
|The Daily Beast|
|Terry Crews: Men need to hold each other accountable|
|Actor Terry Crews is also one of the silence breakers and one of the first men to join the chorus of voices on Twitter sharing his own #MeToo story. He says that he was motivated by the public skepticism leveled at one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers. “It went something like: She’s just looking for attention and a payday. It really affected me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I remember going to my phone and I started writing… They were being shamed. They were being victimized again. I just couldn’t stand for it.” he said. It was an impulse — he didn’t even consult his wife first. But the response to him has given the Flint, Mich. native new meaning. “Now I know why I was put here,” he says. “Let me tell you—the guy who messed with me messed with the wrong guy.”|
The Woke Leader
|Let’s all go to the baths today|
|You will want to book a flight to Japan immediately after reading this lovely piece by Hanya Yanagihara, who shares her tentative and joyful experiences with ofuru, Japan’s public bath ritual. “One might not appreciate just how extraordinary the country’s devotion to soaking in a steaming tub of water is until one realizes that Japan might be the only industrialized nation in which virtually every citizen (in this case, 127 million people) participates in a daily event,” she says. She describes the sensory delights, the all-enveloping aesthetic, the communal peace and the overwhelming “Japanese-ness” of it all. “It is a time and place reserved for pleasing the senses, for enjoying the luxury of feeling, for the wonder of experiencing the simplest, most satisfying sensations: heat, water, scent.” All utterly blissful, unless you’re a shy outsider. But even then, it’s magic.|
|Town and Country|
|War on Christmas, part 2,793: Jingle Bells was racist|
|Here’s the story everyone loves. Jingle Bells was originally written by a beloved Medford, Mass. man named James Lord Pierpont in 1850, while sitting in a tavern and feeling cheery feels about the sound of sleigh bells outside. Turns out, Pierpont was more of a loser than a town treasure. After a long strange trip failing his way across California and escaping creditorss, wrote “One Horse Open Sleigh,” to be performed in a famous minstrel show called “Dandy Darkies,” that was popular in Boston in the late 1850s. (There’s even a picture of the white actor singing the song in blackface. Yay Boston!) Pierpont abandoned his children, then wandered down South to join the Confederacy, to annoy his abolitionist father, or some such. Anyway, the people in Medford will have to do something about the plaque, I suppose. Historians for the win.|
|War on Christmas part 2, 794: A holiday gift gets delivered to the Playhouse, not the White House|
|Most people who remember 1988 look back on the year with new fondness. It began with the delight of the Jamaican bobsled team in the Calgary Olympics, and ended as the Reagans prepared to transfer power to the first pair of George Bushes. But it was also the year when an oversized holiday package was misrouted and ended up at PeeWee Herman’s famous Playhouse. Yes, that’s Grace Jones in a box, who emerged to sing a holiday classic. (There’s one other very cool cameo, too.) I’m sure Nancy would have loved the whole thing.|