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Group that raised banner at Fenway wants to confront culture of racism

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A member of a group of five issued a statement claiming responsibility for the "Racism is As American As Baseball" banner that was displayed inside Fenway Park Wednesday night.

By Globe Staff 

It took a couple of months to plan and a couple of days to make, but the banner unfurled over the Green Monster that read “Racism Is As American As Baseball” was fairly easy to sneak into Fenway Park.

In choosing a member of their group to get the sign past security, the five Boston-area activists who made it settled on a woman they thought would attract the least amount of scrutiny.

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“I folded it, put it in a bag, and brought it in,” said the woman, a Greater Boston resident in her 20s who spoke to the Globe at her apartment on the condition of anonymity. She spread the large banner across the floor in her residence to prove she had participated.

“It was a conscious choice to use me as a sort of a decoy,” she said. “I’m white. I’m female. I wore something cute. I don’t like that that is effective, but it is. . . . I present as a nonthreatening figure.”

She said a security staffer checked the bag quickly before allowing her to proceed. Then, the woman said, she and her friends dropped the banner over the Monster in the fourth inning to make “a statement about a national problem.”

She said the problem is a culture of bigotry that denies racial minorities fair access to quality education and equal treatment by law enforcement, among other challenges. That, she maintained, is why the group dropped a controversial sign over one of the city’s most hallowed spaces — to get people to confront the divide and possibly change their thinking.

“The underlying message is the idea of racism as an American institution,” she said, describing racial prejudice as a problem afflicting “all cities.”

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Her comments were echoed by a second demonstrator in the group, who asked to remain anonymous when reached by phone.

“I think there’s a narrative that because we’re in the Northeast, that we are progressive and we’re not as racist as other areas of the country,” the second activist said. “I think this is a false and damaging narrative. We need to wake up and realize we are just as racist as anywhere else in this country. Just because we’re more quiet [about racism] doesn’t mean that it’s less pervasive.”

The sign was greeted with boos at the ballpark, and the woman who carried it in said the response wasn’t surprising. She also said the group wants to remain anonymous to keep the focus on combating racism, rather than their personal biographies.

She insisted she is not overly concerned about a violent act of retaliation if her identity is revealed.

“That’s a pretty distant fear in my mind,” she said.

In an e-mail, a Red Sox spokesman said the activists are not banned for life from Fenway but were ejected Wednesday night because banners and signs “are not allowed to be affixed to any part of the ballpark. “

The woman who brought the sign in also addressed the initial confusion among people who didn’t know what to make of it when the banner went viral, with some taking it as an endorsement of racism.

“While it was not our intention to send an ambiguous message, I believe that the confusion surrounding the message is actually quite telling,” she said. “It reveals an implicit bias” suggesting that “anything compared to America must be good.”

There were also mixed signals over who had hung the banner. A group calling itself “Boston Antifa” had quickly claimed responsibility on social media, but many have pegged their accounts as a parody of the larger antifascist movement.

And the woman who brought the sign in said that while she and her friends are active in social justice circles in Greater Boston, they were not representing any particular group.

She also rebuffed critics who have blasted the advocates for injecting politics into a night at Fenway, where most fans go to forget about the conflicts pitting groups against one another.

“I think having the choice to decide when you do and don’t want to be political is the definition of privilege,” she said. “For people of color in this country, every interaction they have is part of this experience. People will say, ‘Politics is too stressful. I can’t handle it.’ They make the choice to be apolitical because they can. A lot of people in this country don’t have that choice. Their very lives are threatened.”

And will the banner and resulting media firestorm bring about any concrete change? The woman was cautiously optimistic.

“I have to remind myself all the time that change comes in inches,” she said. “That one action is not going to change the world. That’s why it’s lifelong work.”

The woman added that while she and her friends plan to continue their advocacy, another banner drop is not immediately in the cards.

“I think the banner thing would probably be a little repetitive,” she said. “You can definitely expect us to keep doing this work in some way or another.”

The five also released a statement clarifying their intentions on Wednesday night.

“We are a group of white antiracist protestors,” the statement said. “We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism. White people need to wake up to this reality before white supremacy can truly be dismantled. We urge anyone who is interested in learning more or taking action to contact their local racial justice organization.”


Steve Annear of the Globe Staff contributed to this report Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.