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Is Boston racist? Poll shows city is split — along racial lines

Bostonians are fairly evenly divided over whether theirs is a racist town.David L. Ryan/Globe staff/File/Globe Staff

Bostonians are fairly evenly divided over whether theirs is a racist town, 42 percent saying yes and 45 percent believing it is not, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, views vary dramatically among the races themselves.

Fifty-seven percent of those who identify as black said the city is racist, compared with 37 percent of those who call themselves white. Hispanics fell in the middle, with 44 percent believing their hometown is racist.

Further, at 22 percent, blacks were twice as likely as whites to say they were undecided about the question. Sixteen percent of Hispanics were undecided.


At 47 percent, women were more likely than men to see the city as racist, compared with 36 percent of men. Among age cohorts, people aged 36 to 45 years of age were the only ones who reported a majority view.

Demographic fissures also dominated views of the city’s race relations.

Sixty-two percent of whites felt that relations between whites and blacks in Boston were “very” or “somewhat” good — a view shared by 46 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics. Fully 47 percent of blacks thought that those relations were “somewhat” or “very” bad, compared with 35 percent of whites and 18 percent of Hispanics.

Asked whether they felt they had been treated unfairly at work because of their racial or ethnic background in the past 30 days, 4 percent of whites, 12 percent of blacks, and 5 percent of Hispanics said yes.

That sentiment spiked among blacks when the setting was shifted to a store where they were shopping. Thirty-two percent said yes, compared with 7 percent of whites and 18 percent of Hispanics.

At restaurants, bars, theaters, games, or other entertainment places, 21 percent of blacks felt their profile had led to unfair treatment, compared with 10 percent of Hispanics and 5 percent of whites.


Eighteen percent of blacks said they had that feeling in dealings with police during the past month. Fourteen percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of whites reported the same.

At 30 percent, Hispanics were the most likely to report that suspicion during recent experiences getting health care for themselves or a family member. Thirteen percent of blacks and just 3 percent of whites said the same.

Race has been a long-vexing problem for Boston, from the 1950s Red Sox’ insistence on becoming the last major-league team to sign a black player (the Globe’s publisher, John Henry, bought the team in 2002), to the busing uproar of the 1970s and the police department’s handling of the 1989 Charles Stuart case.

More recently, racism burst into the civic dialogue again this spring when a Baltimore Orioles player who is black said fans hurled racial epithets at him and a “Saturday Night Live” comedian labeled Boston the country’s most racist city. Those incidents launched a municipal — and sometimes national — conversation on how the city deals with race.

The poll was conducted June 19 to 21 among registered Boston voters and carries a margin of error of plus/minus 4.4 percent.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.