Today we get to remember that Martin Luther King became “Dr.” at Boston University. He met his wife Coretta Scott who was a voice *and* violin major at NEC. There’s always a Boston connection.
But I recommend reading the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and mentally substituting “Boston” for “Birmingham”. There will be places where the comparison thankfully doesn’t fit, and some where it is shockingly apt. Boston’s continuing pervasive racism and segregation — measurable, palpable, and infamous — are this city’s and region’s immense shame.
- It should be unacceptable to every person in this region that African Americans have $8 in median family wealth. What is this, if not “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society”, as King put it?
- It is unacceptable, in this world-renowned citadel of health care, that black people receive worse health care.
- Our searingly hostile reputation among African-Americans from other places is a national embarrassment. It diminishes us — in an absolute moral sense, but doubtless in an economic and societal sense as well. We drive people out, and we keep them away.
There is still something deeply, stubbornly, and pervasively wrong with us. And it is a white-people problem: On sports radio and newspaper comment sections you can read all manner of rationalization and victim-blaming. To dismiss the experiences of oppressed people; to look them in the eye and say, no, it didn’t happen that way; you didn’t hear what you heard; to deny the obvious injustice when it’s there in front of you; or to walk past the whole business like the priests and Levites … this is racism. And it is not a burden our neighbors should have to bear.
But we must move on from guilt. Engage in thought exercises: Imagine a city and region more welcoming, more open, more fair, more geographically and economically integrated. Imagine human potential that was nurtured, not neglected. Imagine new relationships, friendships, partnerships, business deals, political coalitions – free of this cloud. Imagine … what should be normal.
People do change. Places change, attitudes change; they change when people decide it is necessary; and when there is strong and intent leadership. Let us not prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” After all, the tension is never really absent.
So while our leaders today excoriate a raw-racist President — and today of all days they should not pass up the opportunity — let’s not be satisfied with pointing the finger elsewhere. We can change.