A Letter to White Boston

This was written by a BFL member who wishes to remain anonymous.

Dear Boston:

This weekend I felt heartsick and ashamed to call you my city. Not because you harbor a handful of militant white supremacists, but because you are home to thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of well-intentioned white people who are content to denounce racism with their words while still enabling and supporting it in their everyday lives.

When I first moved to the Boston area a couple of years ago it felt like a breath of fresh air. As a white millennial and a gay woman from the South, living in Cambridge—a city that painted the crosswalks and benches in front of City Hall rainbow—felt like I’d made it to liberal heaven. Like many people here, I thought of my new home as a model of progressive values. I was proud to be a part of it. But I didn’t see the racism that pervades our (white) liberal paradise.

Boston racism is not the racism of skinheads and cross burning. Looking around the Commons yesterday, I saw few people who considered themselves white supremacists. Several dozen, maybe a hundred, turned out yesterday for the “Free Speech” rally. And make no mistake—their message of nationalism, intolerance, and racial purity is evil. But it was many of my fellow counter-protesters who left me feeling sick. Yes, there were signs that said Black Lives Matter and denounced white supremacy. But I also saw counter-protesters with signs that in bright, friendly pastels, claimed “All Lives Matter” and “Be colorblind!” and “We are all one race—human.” And I know that they and many other counter-protestors probably went home congratulating themselves on fighting the good fight and keeping racism out of our city.

But even if you “don’t see color,” racism in Boston is as alive as ever. Sure, we can recognize it easily in faces of self-proclaimed neo-Nazis. But what about in the segregation dividing our neighborhoods along racial lines, or the profound income inequality between white and nonwhite Bostonians? According to a 2015 report, white households in Boston have a median net worth of nearly $250,000, compared to $8 for U.S.-born black households about $3,000 for most Hispanics. Census data from 2010 provides a clear map of the racial divide in our city, which placed in the top handful of the most segregated metropolis areas in the nation. We demonstrated this weekend that we can spot the bigotry of militant white supremacists, but do we recognize the racism lurking in our policing and criminal justice system? In our own unacknowledged, subconscious biases?

It’s easy to spend a Saturday afternoon going to a protest in the park. It’s much harder to actually put in the effort to fight the racism entrenched in our city, our country, and ourselves.

I’m afraid that the message we, the well-intentioned white people of Boston, take away from yesterday will be one of victory. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that instead we take yesterday’s events as a bit of inspiration in the long, difficult battle to dismantle white supremacy. If you agree and are looking for a place to start, I have two suggestions:

Give what you can—money, time, and labor—to groups like Black Lives Matter (national and especially local chapters) that are fighting back against institutionalized racism.

Educate yourself. Then educate others. Read books. Read blogs. Watch documentaries. Do some self-examining. Working to unravel my own ignorance is one of the hardest and most important things I’ve done—frankly, I’m still doing it. There are a million incredible resources out there, but a few I’d recommend are:

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

Between the World and Me, by Ta-nehisi Coates

Killing the Black Body, by Dorothy E. Roberts

Black Girls Matter, a report by the AAPF and Columbia Law School

Thirteenth, a documentary by Ava DuVernay (on Netflix)

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