When racism goes public, as it did in Boston’s Fenway Park last night, leaders have a tendency to confront it by denying its deep roots.
When the racists came out at a Red Sox game last evening, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker responded in a predictable way this morning on Twitter.
Fenway fans behavior at the #RedSox game last night was unacceptable & shameful. This is not what Massachusetts & Boston are about.
— Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) May 2, 2017
He’s both right and wrong in his assessment.
It was, indeed, shameful and unacceptable when some fans taunted one of the comparatively few African American baseball players — Baltimore Orioles All-Star centerfielder Adams Jones — with racist epithets, one fan hurling a bag of peanuts at him.
“The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior, and our entire organization and our fans are sickened by the conduct of an ignorant few,” the team said in a statement. “Such conduct should be reported immediately to Red Sox security, and any spectator behaving in this manner forfeits his/her right to remain in the ballpark, and may be subject to further action. Our review of last night’s events is ongoing.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s statement mirrored Baker’s:
“This is unacceptable and not who we are as a city. These words and actions have no place in Fenway, Boston, or anywhere. We are better than this.”
You’re not, however, until you are. And that’s where Baker is wrong, too.
Racism may not entirely define who you are as a city or county or state or organization, but it is a part of who we are as long as it exists. Little changes until we acknowledge the cancer that lives among us and is a part of us.
This exchange on Twitter this morning by a couple of Boston media members is a perfect example of the institutional denial:
— Dan Roche (@RochieWBZ) May 2, 2017
— Glenn Ordway (@GlennDOrdway) May 2, 2017
Boston, long regarded as one of the more racist northern cities, earned its reputation the old-fashioned way: by being racist.
Orioles'Jones says he was berated by racist taunts at Fenway https://www.usatoday. This was '70's Fenway-ask Reggie Smith, Mickey Rivers
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) May 2, 2017
On Boston’s all-sports radio station WEEI this morning, the all-white panel blamed “outsiders who don’t know what it’s like here in 2017” for the national condemnation.
“You’d think there was a Klan rally at Fenway Park,” talk show host Glen Ordway said on the air this morning. “Give me a break.”
An earlier show’s panel on the same station — also all-white — suggested Jones was “making it up.”
Racism often gets the benefit of the doubt. The two portrayals of Boston aren’t insiders vs. outsiders; it’s whites vs. people of color.
— Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) May 2, 2017
“For all its sophistication, Boston is very parochial,” Renee Graham, a Boston Globe columnist of color wrote in March. “That can be especially acute for people of color who despite years, even decades, here, still find boundaries they are reluctant to cross. Boston has worked to repair its reputation, but that work remains incomplete. The question isn’t whether this city is racist, but what its citizens, business leaders, and elected officials plan to do beyond occasionally talking about it. Perhaps a solid first step will be for people to be as outraged by the racism that clings to Boston like a second skin as they are by a comedian who had the audacity to call it out.”
That comedian was Michael Che, the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update host, who quipped before the Super Bowl that he was rooting for the Falcons because Boston was “the most racist city I’ve ever been to.” It touched off a predictable reaction.
Whites refused to validate the experiences of blacks. “Talk to your closest black friend and ask them to explain it to you,” Che said to a woman who objected to his observation.
“There is something about the climate here” in Boston, Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, tells the Boston Globe. “There is something about the climate that made people think it was okay. That made people think that, in a crowded stadium, they could shout out these words, and not only would they not be arrested — but the people around them would find it acceptable. And that speaks to something very deep.’’
It’s also what made this tweet from the Boston Globe (later deleted)seem acceptable to someone in a position of some editorial influence.
You’re not a racist because you live in the same city or county as racists. But everything is the sum of its parts. And as long as that math can be easily proven, whatever your parts are is part of who you are.
The shame we feel in incidents like this is our brain’s way of telling us what our heart doesn’t want to accept: We own it.