After “White Dorchester” Incident, Local Artist Offers Services as “Your Black Friend”
Tory Bullock offered to help Bostonians avoid racially charged gaffes. And people are taking him up on it.
The Dorchester Historical Society is catching a lot of flak this week for an extremely poorly phrased Christmas card it designed and distributed, and a local artist and activist is offering a creative solution for other white Bostonians hoping to avoid a similar folly: Diversity, via him.
Boston’s Tory Bullock, a performer and social commentator whose frequently viral videos have tackled such topics as the luxury condo boom, racism, and snow days, confronted the Dorchester incident in a new video critiquing the volunteer-led organization’s response. The historical society has said it is “truly sorry” for the phrasing of the card, which reads “We’re dreaming of a white Dorchester,” and described the fact that they missed its obvious racial connotation as an “unfortunate oversight.”
We are very truly sorry about our graphic used for this event. This was an unfortunate oversight on our part and the event photograph has been removed from our social media. We were simply changing the words to the classic Christmas carol and did not think it through properly. https://t.co/2Anki4JF6N
— Dorchester Historical Society (@DotHistorical) November 26, 2018
“Ya think?” an incredulous Bullock asks in a new video. He points out that the group should be especially sensitive to issues of race given the neighborhood is a “hotbed of controversy” over gentrification.
Bullock shies away from accusing the group itself of racism, but called the gaffe “a product of not having anybody that doesn’t look like you in the room—you know, diversity.”
So he came up with a plan. The next time a company or nonprofit wants to roll out a new marketing campaign, he says in the video, they’re free to run it by him first. That way, if any problematic words or images find their way into the ad copy, he’ll spot them.
“Here’s what I’m offering here, white people: I will be your black friend,” he says. “I’m starting a brand new program, y’all. It’s called DiversiTORY. The aim of DiversiTORY will be to check you when nobody else will.” He invited any interested groups or businesses to contact him via email at email@example.com.
And guess what? Some did.
“I have received five legitimate requests so far,” says Bullock, reached by phone on Wednesday.
He won’t reveal who has contacted him for “black friend” services so far, but described them as some local nonprofits, a theater group, and a room escape company. The latter is working on a marketing plan and wants “to make sure it’s not offensive,” he says.
Bullock, who is well known for staging public interactive pieces like a playable “Gentrification Game,” tells me he originally envisioned his offer as performance art. But now he’s planning to take on a couple of clients as a consultant and see where this goes.
“It was done in a tongue-in-cheek way, but there is a real need for it actually,” he says. “We’re living in a digital age where if you make this kind of mistake in public you can be crucified for it, and there are people holding onto these old habits of not letting people of color into the room. It’s in your own best interest to not make these mistakes.”
And the Dorchester incident is certainly not the first of its kind. Remember those cringe-worthy Samsung ads at South Station, offering to “keep your work stuff safe if you go to Alewife and your phone goes to Mattapan”? Bullock says he could have flagged it before it became a public relations disaster.
There is a dark side to this new social experiment, however. “It’s a great, horrible idea,” he says. “If it’s successful, what does that really mean that I’m being rented by all these organizations that want to get a black perspective without hiring a black person?”