Readers offer solutions after Globe’s series on race in Boston
Revive a radio station aimed at people in Boston’s black community to give them added voice, and perhaps power, in the city. Give the City Council greater authority to influence development projects. Create more social events for people of different backgrounds to get to know each other — and talk things through if the conversation takes a bad turn.
“The suggestion to speak up and challenge racist comments is especially meaningful to me,” said a reader who regretted remaining silent recently after hearing a racially offensive comment about a black-owned barbecue restaurant. “If you hear something, or see something, say something.”
These are just some of the ideas that poured into the Globe’s e-mail box, comment board, and Facebook group, heeding a call for possible solutions to problems raised in the Spotlight Team’s seven-part series on race, which concluded Dec. 16.
By the thousands, readers reacted to the weeklong series of articles, which examined whether Boston’s enduring reputation as a place unwelcoming to black people is deserved. Some 1,600 readers posted comments on a moderated comment board, about 3,000 people have joined a special Facebook group for the series, called “Discussing Race in Boston,” and hundreds wrote to email@example.com, an e-mail address set up for feedback.
Individuals and organizations have also talked about arranging meetups, luncheon panels, and conference events to discuss issues raised by the series, aiming to start the gatherings in the new year.
The Globe series, relying on extensive data and hundreds of interviews, found the city has become a more tolerant place in the past few decades, with overt acts of racism far less common, but stark inequities in wealth, opportunity, and clout remain. Though the racial climate has improved, reporters found racist attitudes remain powerful, even if in more subtle and systemic forms.
Interest in the series prompted the Globe to put the stories outside of the paywall for bostonglobe.com, making it available to nonsubscribers at no charge.
Many readers said they hope the series triggers change. They said the articles accurately depicted the ways Boston still has not fully lived up to its progressive ideals.
Sunny James said the series was “a validation of the life I lived in Boston as a young girl.” James, who now lives in Washington, D.C., remembered being called racial slurs on the playground at her elementary school.
“While I have never wanted to introduce my kids to Boston, I have entertained the idea of visiting my stomping grounds to bury the wounds that the city left,” she wrote in an e-mail.
On the other hand, some readers said the series didn’t reflect the Boston that they know.
“Honestly, I’m tired of reading stories about MY city being racist & not welcoming to blacks,” wrote one reader. “I’ve lived in Boston ALL my life & never had a problem. I came from nothing & rose up by myself & have plenty of Black friends & many who have done very well.”
Some other readers felt the Spotlight series did not give enough credit for the many improvements in the racial climate in Boston. A reader from Barnstable said she wanted to commend the Globe for the stories but added that “you did not provide graphs and enough information to show the progress that has been made in the city since the outrageous busing issue of the 70s . . . left a stain on Boston.”
Seeking to bridge differences, Keesa McKoy posted a question in the Facebook group, reaching out to people who question the city’s race problem.
“For those who don’t think Boston is racist, who feel that stories like the Spotlight series only drive division, can you please articulate why you think Boston isn’t racist,” she wrote. “I’m curious about a) your definition of racism (especially systemic since it’s mostly what the Globe explores) and b) why you think the city is not. I’m honestly curious and really hope you’re willing to share.”
That post prompted a number of replies, some suggesting it’s ridiculous that people would question if there is racism here, or anywhere in America, and others saying it’s impossible for many Bostonians to answer honestly without fear of being politically incorrect and prompting “the insults [to] start flying.”
Others focused on specific actions they believe could further improve the racial climate. Some provided policy suggestions involving land use aimed at making sure the Seaport, Boston’s newest neighborhood, doesn’t remain predominantly white.
To make the city a more equitable place, Susan W. Morris, of Boston, said that term limits for the mayor should be imposed, to encourage more new leaders to come forward to help shape the city. She also said the Boston Planning & Development Agency should be more accountable to the City Council, rather than to the mayor.
“City planning puts too much control in the mayor’s hands, puts too much developers’ money into the Mayor’s race, and makes the city too vulnerable to one person,” she wrote. “It would lessen the influence of developers who use public money to make luxury units for white people.”
The role of the news media was also thoroughly dissected by readers.
Though The Globe mentioned some ways it’s trying to become more inclusive in its leadership and its coverage, several readers pushed it to go further. They said the Globe’s obituaries section rarely has nonwhite faces, and others said they want more coverage of communities of color, in general. They also pointed out that, as the series noted, few black people are in leadership roles at the Globe.
“More photographs and more articles that show people of different races and backgrounds together, doing something either useful for the community or even just for fun, would make many of those who read the paper start to take those activities as ‘the norm,’ ” said one reader.
A professor said that Boston’s media landscape may suffer from the lack of a prominent local radio station that’s black-owned. Boston used to have a station owned by black community members, WILD, but under new corporate ownership it stopped focusing on African-American issues a number of years ago.
“In most cities with a sizable black population, there have been local radio stations around which the community could rally,” wrote Donna L. Halper, an associate professor at Lesley University. “These stations were not just about playing the hits; they were a focus of information and news that the so-called ‘mainstream’ stations didn’t usually address.”
Black-owned media, such as the Bay State Banner newspaper, have had trouble generating significant advertising support, she said, and “a thriving black media would go a long way towards making the black community feel as if its story is being told.
“Relying on the ‘mainstream’ media often means the only time stories of your neighborhood get told is when crimes are committed,” Halper said. “White Bostonians have long held inaccurate ideas about black Bostonians because more often than not, the only stories widely reported depicted danger and criminality.”
Others said bringing good jobs to more people of color is a major way to improve the city’s identity and future and to elevate more African-Americans into middle- and higher-income levels. “Encourage large manufacturing companies, retail, and high tech operations offering livable wages to locate facilities in existing predominately African-American/minority communities,” wrote Lenore Gibson, of Watertown.
Responding to the article about how some of Boston’s most elite hospitals serve fewer black patients than white patients, Kimberly Hampton said more black doctors could lead to better treatment of African-Americans.
“More health care practitioners of color is always a good thing,” she wrote. “Only 2 hospitals in the region having a professional staff of color above 4% is just shameful in a region that has all the universities and teaching hospitals that Boston has,” she wrote.
And when it comes to elite universities and their lack of progress in increasing the percentage of black students, one reader suggested changing the formula for national rankings that attract so much attention from colleges, parents, and students.
“Universities care about press,” the reader wrote. If rankings “included diversity (maybe specifically identifying percentage of black students) as part of the weighting of the schools, the schools would put more money there.”
People also looked beyond our series to target other industries that needed more black employees and leaders — including government and the judiciary.
One reader said tangible steps can be taken to improve the racist image of the city — a reputation that a survey showed is still common among black people. “Promote the African American history of Boston in tourist brochures — particularly the Black Heritage Trail and the African Meeting House,” this reader wrote.
The extended discussions of race — online and offline — are an important major step toward addressing the race issues of the city, according to a Randolph woman.
“It’s long overdue for a real truthful and honest discourse of the state of race relations between blacks and whites in Boston and the impact over decades,” she wrote on the Globe’s Facebook group. “We cannot continue to ignore the elephant in the room . . . Boston can’t afford the status quo any longer.”
But some said that shedding the city’s racist image won’t be complete until people — especially black people — are no longer compelled to share stories about avoiding Boston.
“Experiences vary, but on some topics a consensus will arise. People may experience racism in any part of the country, but certain regions emerge as ‘hotspots,” places to be avoided if possible,” one reader wrote.
He said many black people form impressions of places based on trusted word-of-mouth advice from other black people, often communicated at church meetings, barbershops, and cookouts. This reader went on to say: “Has Boston changed? Undoubtedly. Is it more welcoming than other major cities I visit regularly? Well, no, not really . . . Do I breathe a sigh of relief, as I watch the area disappear from my airplane window Oh yes. Very yes.”
The discussion has been lively on the various online platforms, but it has also sparked some organizations to talk more about race offline — and face-to-face.
In the Facebook group created for the series, one reader suggested that people in the Seaport should meet informally to come up with ideas. One story pointed out that the Seaport, the city’s newest neighborhood, was only 3 percent black, according to recent census estimates.
“Anyone in Seaport?” this reader asked. “Has anyone talked of forming a group to gather on a monthly basis to chat about some of the issues identified in the Globe series?”
Smaller, informal groups have already begun meeting. Just two days after the last article in the series was published, four strangers met at Doyle’s bar in Jamaica Plain to discuss the series.
Paul Yin, a social worker, said he wanted to gather people to talk more about racism against all racial groups — and, most importantly, try to translate the discussions into action. “The series woke people up,” said Yin, who lives in Waltham.
On Monday, the diverse group — a Taiwanese-American, Haitian-American, Irish-American, and Brazilian-American — introduced themselves and strategized over Guinness and chicken wings. The members debated the best ways to achieve racial equity and ended with a plan to meet next month. Yin said similar conversations are being planned in Cambridge, Dorchester, and Waltham, among other places.