“This is my Boston accent,” a young woman declares in Korean, holding a skateboard and looking directly into the camera.
Seconds later, her message is echoed by other members of a diverse cast of Bostonians: a Black academic and author standing in a cavernous library; a woman speaking sign language on a long marble staircase; a redheaded man with a newsboy cap and a beer in his hand; a dog yapping at his owner’s stiletto-booted feet.
The 30-second video, launched Monday, is the second phase of a city tourism effort aimed at changing Boston’s reputation as a place that’s unwelcoming to people of color. This iteration takes aim at one particularly well-known trope — the stereotypical, oft-parodied Boston accent, with its dropped ‘r’s and prolonged ‘a’s — emphasizing that there is not just one style of speech that represents the city’s diverse population.
It’s part of an ongoing effort to change Boston’s image as a racist city, a marketing campaign launched last year under the city’s first woman of color mayor, Kim Janey, that has now been inherited by its second, Michelle Wu. Even as the city has grown increasingly diverse, with white residents now representing just 45 percent of its population, Boston still carries its reputation for being a bastion of white male leadership and exclusionary power structures.
Wu, who last year became the city’s first woman and first person of color elected mayor, said the new campaign is an effort to highlight the diverse backgrounds of Boston residents, and the numerous cultural attractions that await visitors to the city.
“This is a reflection of whose voice matters in our city — whose voice is going to be at the center of every process we hold,” said Wu at a City Hall news conference on Monday.
The campaign will be featured on several local NBCUniversal TV stations, as well as on social media and in print and radio, as part of a nearly $1.5 million ad buy, city officials said.
Tourism efforts here were not always so focused on inclusivity. The Boston Globe reported in 2017 the region’s main tourism website featured a video of mostly white faces inviting visitors to major city attractions. And its “neighborhood dining guide” featured neighborhoods with few Black residents: the Back Bay, downtown, the North End, and the Seaport. That set Boston apart from Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., whose tourism websites featured itineraries dedicated to Black arts, culture, food, and history.
In “communities of color, we never see ourselves represented in how we market our city,” said Segun Idowu, Boston’s chief of economic opportunity and inclusion, who is Black and grew up in the city. “That’s the really important piece of this campaign.”
The “All Inclusive Boston” campaign followed marketing research commissioned for the city under former mayor Martin J. Walsh, which found that Boston needed to highlight diversity and inclusion to combat negative stereotypes and drive tourism. Top descriptors of the city given by Black residents included “white,” “rude,” “unwelcoming,” and “arrogant,” the research showed, and travelers unfamiliar with Boston reported viewing the city in similar terms.
The first phase of the new campaign, launched last year, featured a diverse array of Black, Asian American, and Latino city residents. It has generated more than 4,000 new visits to the city, even amid the restrictions and suppressed travel of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city said. Officials hope this year’s efforts will drive even more tourism.
Broadening the definition of the accent Boston is known for was “an opportunity to reintroduce the city,” said Daren Bascome, one of the marketing executives who worked on the campaign. Boston residents speak more than 140 languages and have a wide variety of accents, he said; the ad was an opportunity to highlight that diversity.
Some experts said the campaign would be an important strategy for changing the way Boston is perceived.
“People around the country have for a long time seen Boston as not hospitable to Black or Latinx people especially, Asian people as well,” said James Jennings, a professor emeritus at Tufts University who has studied racial disparities in Boston’s leadership. “We still have some challenges — some big challenges — but this is an important effort. It’s not a panacea, but it’s an important effort nonetheless.”
The question of what constitutes a Boston accent, and who counts as a Bostonian, was a lightning rod during last year’s mayoral campaign.
When she won, Wu became the first Boston mayor in nearly a century who was not born here, even after 33 percent of likely voters said in an October Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC10 poll that they preferred a mayor who was born in Boston. Wu’s rival was Annissa Essaibi George, a proud Dorchester native with a traditional Boston accent, which rang through clearly in her campaign promise to be “the teachah, the mothah, and the mayah” to solve the city’s problems.
Essaibi George’s accent became the subject of a Page One New York Times story, and critics, including one Globe opinion page columnist, suggested it was being used as a dog whistle to galvanize Boston’s white conservative voters. Essaibi George, who is Arab American, rejected that claim, saying she was proud of her accent but was not playing it up to pander to voters.
Wu said on Monday she played no role in the creation of the ad campaign beyond cheering it on and supporting its funding.