Addicted to Privilege and Supremacy: Editorial On The Boston Globe’s Racism Spotlight
How many unfortunate facts on racism will it take for our city to acknowledge that it has a problem? How many cringeworthy incidents must we read about, witness or experience before we decide to come together to DO the difficult and much needed work of eliminating racism in our city?
Last week the Spotlight team at The Boston Globe painted a vivid, in-depth picture of the racism problems we’re up against. The seven-part series “BOSTON. RACISM. IMAGE. REALITY”explores many of the deeply entrenched systemic issues that have historically and continuously created an unwelcoming environment for people of color. Casting a wide net, they featured stories of isolation, health disparities, economic inequity, lack of campus diversity, public erasure of blackness, bigotry in sports and the culture of power that permeates, perpetuates and exacerbates the problems of racism across most of our communities.
The series outlines the shape inequity has taken across time. It makes it clear that the predicament we find ourselves in didn’t happen overnight. The issues have been compounding and solidifying over the years into an indelible image of a city addicted to its power, privilege and supremacy, preserved at the expense of people who have, throughout history, been systematically disenfranchised and excluded from waves of economic prosperity.
“In a 1983 series of stories, a team of Globe reporters took a hard look at racial equality in our region. It was not a pretty picture, but local leaders promised things would improve. Thirty-four years later, the promise has yet to be fulfilled. For example:
Then: Just 4.5 percent of black workers were officials and managers.
Now: That number has barely moved, to 4.6 percent in 2015.
Then: The “Vault” — an organization of Boston’s most powerful business leaders — had no black people among its 20 members.
Now: The “New Vault” — the 16-person Massachusetts Competitive Partnership — has no black members.
Then: This area’s unemployment rate was about twice as high for blacks as whites.
Now: The gap remains, with black unemployment more than double the rate of white workers in 2014.”
Add to this historic snapshot some additional demographics and a picture emerges that begs the question, what is going on in this city? According to the Boston Globe, white people make up 73% of the city’s population. Many have traditionally inherited resources and continue to benefit directly from the culture of power and privilege that has come to be signified by “whiteness”. In a panel hosted by the New Yorker in 2015, Claudia Rankine talks about the mechanisms behind the branding and marketing of whiteness. She says, “I think one of the things that we never say explicitly is that whiteness is a brand and that everything in the culture moves towards creating concepts of whiteness that control a lot of things.” Rankine shines a spotlight on how blacks and people of color are constantly framed in contrast to whiteness and how there is generally a certain degree of oblivion in whites resulting from the normalization of “whiteness” as the dominant ideal. Rankine offers this as a framework for unpacking this notion, “White people are not use to thinking about it because whiteness is equal to normality.”
Whenever a significant, fact-based challenge surfaces to help create awareness of these conditions, there is an inevitable uproar stirred by the discomfort that reflection provokes. Taking a long hard look at our city means acknowledging that we’re not as forward-thinking as we think we are. That we have not gone as far as we could have gone over time to create a fair, just and peaceful city. The fact remains that “for every one black household earning more than $75,000 in the metro region, there are about 21 white ones.” The imbalance will persist or widen unless we come together to “make inclusivity a real priority” in our city.
We at YW Boston are no strangers to the challenges surfaced by uncomfortable truths. Neither are we oblivious to the fact that racism exists and has existed in Boston since its origins. For more than 150 years, our organization has empowered people from diverse backgrounds, across race, gender, age and sector to look at the facts, stretch their capacity for understanding and rise to the call of creating a better society for all. We have never shied away from this work. And now, more than ever, we are diving in with full conviction. The time is now.
After all, what could possibly cause people to be numb to facts like these?
“The median net worth of non-immigrant African-American households in the Boston area is just $8, the lowest in a five-city study of wealth disparities. It’s hard to ignore the dramatic contrast to the $247,500 net worth for white households in the Boston area.”
According to the Globe, there are a total of 4 black middle-class enclaves, “two in Stoughton, one in Milton, and one in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. If the search were done looking for neighborhoods that met these criteria for white residents, the results would be a bountiful choice of 516 enclaves.” Isolation, lack of opportunity for upward mobility, cultural erasure, health care inequity and the engineering of “diversity” by aggressive recruitment of international students and workers has created an environment that communicates to people of color in Boston the message that, “you are not welcome here.” Is this an earned reputation?, asks the Globe Spotlight team, and the resounding answer is absolutely. As much progress as the Greater Boston area has made in creating a robust economy, there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that no one is excluded from reaching their greatest potential and tapping into that economic prosperity.
It’s not acceptable to defend or justify continued participation and promulgation of a culture that excludes so many. Why would we ever want to continue supporting a “brand” that only has its own bottom line in mind, when so much more is possible?
There is a boom happening in our city. The economy is thriving and yet “black residents in Massachusetts are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed.” In a city that prides itself on progressive politics and world-renowned education, how can we justify the exclusion of blacks on work sites, in college campuses, in public office, in executive offices, in boardrooms, in entire neighborhoods and in virtually every place where wealth can be amassed, or influence can be had on important collective decisions?
We at YW Boston are urging people reading the Globe Spotlight series to DO something about inequity. It is not enough to diagnose the problem and consume information for the sake of labeling ourselves “woke.” Empty of action, this is just another brand, another image, another empty promise. More must be done to dismantle the systems that are working against so many of us. Everyone loses in the long run if we don’t take this seriously now and begin designing pathways to elevate all people, not just some.
Much in the way we treat addiction to substances as a disease, let’s diagnose this. Let’s work together to examine how we might deconstruct the most significant problems of our times. What are the forces compelling us to action against ourselves and each other? Acknowledging we have a problem is always the first step to recovery. Steps two through five require action. What can we DO to help eliminate racism? YW Boston is sending out a call. This is an invitation to help design new frameworks for progress. It aligns closely with the concept that Junot Diaz and many other writers have revived in a new anthology called, Radical Hope, a book that “offers readers an antidote to despair: a salve, a balm, a compass, a rallying cry, a lyrical manifesto, a power source, a torch to light the way forward.”
At YW Boston, we are offering opportunities, ideas, inspiration, leadership networks and platforms for anyone who wants to do this work in community. If you’re reading this and are ready to help create change, become a partner in this work. Help support our organization in doing the work that must be done if we are to survive this and thrive as a truly diverse, healthy, and promising city.