Opening the Blind Eye

I’ve heard a few people describe Boston as a racist city. I tend to get defensive and indignant when I hear this, because I don’t think of the city as particularly racist compared to other cities I’ve been to. But then again, I’m a white male with limited experience living with the encroaching beliefs of other races. Perspective filters. And comparison is a weak platform for a defense.

So does my default position of treating everyone as equals translate to the rest of the population of Boston? Obviously not. I don’t even live in Boston, I’m north of Boston, in New Hampshire, one of the whitest states in America. The state I’ve lived in since my late twenties is 95% white, so who am I to even think about racism?

Well, I’m a citizen of the world, a traveler who seeks new perspectives, an embracer of diverse experience and cultures. But it’s overly smug to say I’m fully “woke” when I might visit a predominantly black neighborhood in Boston or New York ocassionally and then return to my 100% white neighborhood. This offers the luxury of distance from the everyday immediacy of multiracial interaction. You tend to think you know, but do you really? And so I wonder, what am I missing?

When my son played AAU basketball and I spent entire weekends in a gym with a highly diverse population I learned more about myself than I did about basketball. I learned that the world doesn’t always see things the way I do, because they don’t experience things the way that I do. We’d come together in some random gym, experience the highs and lows of a weekend tournament and go our separate ways. That’s skimming the surface, not seeking to understand.

If my default position is to treat everyone as equals, when does that wiring short out? When I’m the minority on a city street or on a subway car? Or when someone I thought looked at things the same way I do starts parroting racist propaganda at me? When do we turn our blind eye back on the harsh reality someone else is facing and stare down the ugly truth?

Boston was once overtly racist. Is it now? I’m not sure. Each generation seems to move closer to acceptance. When I hear someone call Boston a racist city, my indignation is rooted in my own position. But my defensiveness is rooted in knowing that there are still too many racists who are quite vocal with their hate. And this is a key point, they’re vocalizing a position, held by some but certainly not most. But what the hell are most of us doing when the racism happens?

Not enough. Clearly we need to lose the indignation and look squarely at the situation. If the majority of people feel that everyone should be treated equally, then act that way. A chorus of welcoming acceptance should drown out the toxic voices of the relative few. If we’re all in this together we ought to start living that way. Not by wringing our hands together but by lending a hand and building something better, together.

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