Editor’s Letter: Our Race Problem

Well, here we go again, Boston. Here we are, back in the mud. America’s most racist city! It’s ridiculous, of course. But we own it. We bought it on the installment plan nearly 40 years ago and every few months another bill comes due.

The latest demand for payment arrived on a Wednesday night in April, immediately after a Washington Capitals hockey player had the temerity to not only end the Bruins’ season with an overtime goal, but also to be black. Within moments of Joel Ward scoring his goal, hordes of drunken racists grabbed their phones and began tweet-casting their fury. How do we know they were racists? Because they expressed themselves like this: “Fucking stupid arrogant, smelly, useless, waste of life, sad excuse for a NHL hockey playing NIGGER!!!!” Actually, not all of the tweets were quite so affectionate, like the one that said, “that nigger deserves to hang.”

Now, I know all the same things you do. I know that a significant number of these grotesque rants came from high schoolers tweeting out of their parents’ homes. I know that some of them came from people who don’t even live in New England or root for the Bruins. I know that less than two weeks later, Ward was again the subject of racist tweets, this time from Capitals fans upset that he’d committed a costly penalty — and this time to much less fanfare. And I know that our city, our entire state, is overrun with people committed to fairness, equality, and social justice. I won’t bore you by reciting our progressive bona fides. You’re well aware of them.

But, like you, I also know that when it comes to race and Boston, it can never be as simple as what is mere perception and what is reality. That’s because four decades ago — in full view of the entire nation — white adults did things like throw rocks at school buses carrying terrified black children to city schools a federal judge had correctly ruled to be unconstitutionally segregated. After court-ordered busing, when it came to race and Boston, perception was reality. That is our legacy. We earned it.

It pains me every time we make national news because a nightclub shuts down an event for Ivy Leaguers who are of color. Or an African-­American Harvard professor whose front door gets stuck is arrested for trying to break into his own home. Or a black athlete announces that, all things considered, he just wouldn’t be comfortable playing in Boston. Or a murderous white husband blames his wife’s killing on a black man and sets off a manhunt that humiliates our minority neighborhoods. This stuff happens everywhere, I tell my friends of color. It happens in your cities, too. And they agree with me. It does. But I know what they’re thinking: When it happens in Boston, it’s different. And they’re right. It is. That’s our legacy, too.

What can we do? Continue what we’ve started and hope that the country’s perceptions of our city eventually catch up to the reality.

Today we are a majority-minority city. In the most recent city council elections, Ayanna Pressley, who is black, got more votes than any other candidate. The only other woman to do that was Louise Day Hicks — the face, 40 years ago, of the fight against busing.