Tell Me Tuesday, Third Rail Edition – What To Do About Boston and Race?

Boston has a long-standing bad reputation for racism and segregation. So bad that the city struggles to keep young professionals of color, despite the fact that there are jobs and amazing institutions of higher education here.

Ask any non-white person from Atlanta, New York or Chicago what they think of Boston and they’ll cite racism and a lack of opportunity for people of color as a primary characteristic. It remains open to debate whether those perceptions reflect some truth, the whole truth or no truth, but perception is reality.

In the recent past, many organizations have sprung up to support young people of color in their personal and professional lives, including The PartnershipCommonwealth Compact, Friendly Takeover, Emerge MA and many others (if you know of other organizations, please post them in the comments!).

Here at ONEin3 HQ and City Hall, we believe that Boston’s future success rests on ensuring that there are professional, cultural and social opportunities for all.

We believe that that effort begins with an honest conversation, like the great one we began at DotRox Neighborhood Night last week.

So, in honor of Tell Me Tuesday, we ask you:

How can we, as a new generation of young Bostonians, make Boston a more inclusive place that people of color from all over the world want to call home?

We probably don’t need to say this, but to our wonderful ONEin3ers, please be thoughtful in your comments. Let’s make this a constructive conversation!


Filed under All types of Resources, Tell Me Tuesdays

8 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday, Third Rail Edition – What To Do About Boston and Race?

  1. Jamie

    Kudos to Onein3 for even raising this subject.

    There is no question that Boston has a perception problem when it comes to race issues. It doesn’t help that in popular culture and the media, rarely are Bostonians of color ever mentioned or seen. Every movie, TV show, etc. essentially focuses on one demographic of Boston- white, working class Irish Catholics. Hey, I’m one of them and it’s not like we shy away from the spotlight but it’s to the city’s detriment that the rest of America thinks that Boston’s entire population consists of white guys in windbreakers and scally caps.

    But that perception is only reinforced for visitors when they visit Boston. The main downtown tourist areas are overflowing with fake Irish bar after fake Irish bar. And because those areas attract nearby residents from heavily white areas, perception becomes reality for visitors, no matter their race or ethnicity. That also translates into a fairly unwelcoming atmosphere for our own residents.

    There are no simple answers to changing the perception (and make no mistake, some of it is reality) but for the younger generation of Bostonians- black and white- if you’re serious about changing the city, you need to do some of the changing.

    It’s important that Bostonians of all races visit bars and restaurants in other neighborhoods, that they pay attention to what goes on in other neighborhoods and that we’re welcoming and open in practice and not just theory.

    And you also can’t be afraid to talk about race. When no one talks about race, it only makes it that much more of a taboo subject, which is ridiculous.

  2. Sarah Wenig

    Boston demands too much assimilation from residents of all colors and ethnicities. Even assimilation of personality so that even I, a NY Jew with roots here since the 70s and an Abzuq-like out spokeness have a hard time with Boston Jews! So I think the problems we have interacting with each other go beyond race; that in fact race relations are much improved but that people are rewarded more for fitting in and that as a result mediocrity prevails. Mediocrity insists that people remain strangers and assume they are not welcome and or that have reason to distrust. Mediocrity stifles change growth and opportunity.

  3. Wynndell Bishop

    Racial differences are real in the City of Boston. As a life long resident I can speak to many of them. Particularly, from a young black professional perspective, social life is particularly challenging. Specifically, I am going to cite night life. There no upscale/ trendy bars, restaurants, or clubs owned by black people that cater to a black crowd. It could be a numbers thing; maybe there aren’t enough people to support that business or maybe political and social constraints have made it nearly impossible for such an establishment to exist.

    Whenever I visit other cities, it’s disheartening to see black professionals having choices of venues to let down their hair in an atmosphere that is comfortable b/c all the people around them they can readily identify with. We have no hip hop lounges, few jazz bars, as a result our options are limited. Even when we venture downtown to “hip hop” nights, urban professionals have mandatory dress codes in bars that on all other evenings have nothing close to a dress code for “majority” folks.

    As young professionals w/ similar spending power and education it becomes frustrating when you are constantly singled out due to the color of your skin. It wears on the psyche and eventually people leave Boston b/c they don’t have a social life.

    I have a friend who is coming into town this weekend, she lives in DC and is a Boston College Alum. She asked for a place to hang out and grab a drink Saturday night w/ a diverse crowd of young professionals… I have nowhere to send her that is a guararteed good time… If a career opportunity presents itself, why would she want to move here?

    I contend that in order for Boston to live up to its potential and become a truly World Class City for all, things need to change Socially and Politically. People of Color need more options than Slade’s, Biff’s, Packy’s, and Breezeway…

  4. Jackney

    I think there are a couple of issues. Yes, the city is certainly divided along racial lines. Clearly, there are not many places where young professionals of color can go and find other professionals of color or a diverse crowd. This is quite strange for a minority-majority city. There is also a dearth of entertainment options in the city in general.

    In D.C., New York and Philly, it is rare that I walk around and feel like I don’t belong, but more than once this has happened as I walked around the North End or Newbury Street. This is my city (born and raised) and yet others make me feel as if it is not. It is not just about brown people venturing out to other neighborhoods- we do that. It is also about white people venturing out and supporting every neighborhood.

    I also believe that Boston is inherently a city of circles and if you are not part of those circles your network is very limited. I think it is harder for black and brown people to find those circles whether they are personal or professional. If you can’t break into any circle you are more likely to seek out another place where it is not as challenging.

    Yes, we have great educational and professional opportunities in this city, but some people get access and some do not. Those with less access seem to be black and brown. How do we connect all factions of the city better? How do we equalize opportunities so that everyone has a chance? How do we do this in a way that makes Boston a more accepting and understanding city that is truly world class?

    I think this is an important conversation to start AND to continue.

  5. I got a lot out of the Dorchester race and ethnicity dialogues, but attendance could have been higher — I hope that people interested in this post attend an upcoming City-Wide Dialogue on Boston’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity!

  6. Makia

    The Young Black Professional’s Perspective.
    Here’s an analogy for you.
    Atlanta is to professional blacks as Boston is to _____. The answer is definitely not professional blacks.

    When I moved here from Atlanta, I perceived that Boston would be professionally rewarding, but socially suicidal. As much as I didn’t want the latter to be true, it proved true!!!
    I love my profession, but that’s not all that a young professional is looking for. Unfortunately, after being here 7 years I still don’t know of any “place” that I can go to that has a diverse crowd. It’s very unfortunate that the perception of Boston is actually a realization. I travel home to Atlanta quite often, and definitely see the stark contrasts between the two cities.

    “Ongoing, Publicized” Professional events that target underrepresented minority groups.

    Nightlife events.

    This is “Struggling in Boston” signing off.
    Hope there are some changes in this town or it will continue to be a “revolving door” for black professionals.

  7. In response to Lauren’s post, YWCA Boston is the new home of the City Wide Dialogues (now Community Dialogues) and we’re hosting 8-12 dialogues across the city this year. The goal is to facilitate honest conversations about race and ethnicity with the hope that new relationships and a stronger, more vibrant Boston will result. We’d love to work with the ONEin3 community to continue the conversation.

  8. JP

    I think there needs to be a mix of optimism with the acknowledgment of the difficulties for the city to move forward. Boston as a whole needs to do more to celebrate a very inspiring past as the place where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his doctoral thesis and met his wife; the home of Frederick Douglas and Malcolm X; the home of one of the only African-American senators since reconstruction (back in the 1960s) and the second African-American governor since reconstruction. Some of that is in the past, but some also is in the present. And statistics don’t necessarily reflect the daily life experience people have, but Massachusetts has some of the best educational outcomes (at least in terms of test scores) for people of color of any state in the United States, and other statistics about wealth, etc. show average opportunity here to be relatively greater than the perceptions often would suggest. There still remains a huge opportunity gap and much to be done, but there is much to celebrate. I am white, and know I cannot even imagine the reality of life here for people from other backgrounds, but I think starting from a place of acknowledging strengths often is a helpful place for dialogue and progress.

    Those positive facts also don’t speak as much to day-to-day life, and the city clearly needs to do a lot more. There are a few more integrated bars in the area, like Middlesex in Cambridge, but clearly there need to be more. This could be a place to try to start it out. People can be proactive and can pick places and say let’s try to bring a diverse crowd here. Maybe that sounds too forced or the idea that it would work sounds too optimistic, but it’s a place to start, and ONEin3 can lead the way.

    One other thought is we shouldn’t think of ourselves as being so much worse off than other places on this. Every American city and place has a long way to go, and with the right leadership and optimism, Boston can return to a position of leadership in getting us there.

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