A few weeks ago, a dear friend (who, like me, happens to be a Chicago transplant to Maine) asked if I wanted to go to Boston to watch the Red Sox play the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park.
To be clear, I am not a sports person. However, coming from Chicago, I do feel a certain affinity for the Cubs, who only recently rejoined the winner’s circle with that World Series win after a nearly 110-year drought.
But after going back and forth, and despite my love of the Cubs, my answer to his invitation was: “Let’s pass.” Part of it was practicality. After all, it was a late game and we would pay a dear price for tickets.
And then there’s that part where I try to avoid spending time in spaces where there are many white people packed together, many of them drinking piss water that masquerades as beer who might peer over at us, see my dark skin and decide that my new name is nigger.
Part of me felt bad for dealing in worst case scenarios like this, even though I’ve been called by that name in several settings less booze-soaked and emotionally intense.
A few days after deciding to not go to the Cubs/Red Sox game, the story of Adam Jones emerged. Jones is the Baltimore Orioles outfielder who was showered with racial epithets (and peanuts) while playing at Fenway during a game on May 1, a story which made national news.
Boston’s history is rife with racism. And despite wearing the label of a majority-minority city (a little over half of its population identifies as a race/ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White), Boston is still, in the opinion of many people of color (including this writer), a city brimming with racism.
Racism is about power and privilege, and in Boston as in most of the world, power and privilege both reside primarily in the hands of white people.
In the aftermath of the Jones story, far too many white folks and fans tried to paint the incident as an anomaly. And yet, two days later, another racialized incident occurred at Fenway. This time a Kenyan woman (whose name has been withheld) had been invited to sing the national anthem, and in the stands a middle-aged white man called her a racial slur. In this case, another white man in the stands overhead this racial slur, reportedly confronted the man, and notified stadium security, who promptly ejected the offender and issued a lifetime ban.
Now, there are a few different things going on here. For starters, there were those after the incident who discounted what happened to Jones and discredited his words, which is a reminder of whose voices are heard and heeded in this country and whose are often not. Historically, we do not hear Black and Brown voices. In the second incident, a white man reported the racialized language and immediate action was taken. A reminder of the privilege inherent in being a white man — though in this case it was used for good.
Watching the aftermath of these two events in less than a week has been fascinating. People have been quick to state these incidents are not representative of Boston. But they are, in fact, representative of Boston, and of the larger New England area. Boston’s past and present is still filled with racism. Racial slurs may not be in style, but a quick Google search reveals a history and pattern that includes, for recent examples, racist actions at Boston’s tony Latin School as well as a study revealing a lack of home loans to people of color in several Boston neighborhoods.
Too often, racism is only seen as the racial slurs and epithets and the overt or public actions of individuals. But racism is structural. It is deeply entrenched in all our systems. In New England as a whole, racism is often polite and hidden as the lower numbers of people of color compared to other regions can at times obscure the view of hate. But make no mistake, racism is here and it is virulent, just like one of those viruses that lurks in your body, just waiting for the next time to flare up. Until we figure out how to kill the virus entirely, we need to stop thinking these things don’t represent something fundamental in our communities.
Read more from Shay Stewart-Bouley at her blog Black Girl in Maine [blackgirlinmaine.com]