Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, along with the Boston Red Sox organization, quickly apologized to Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones, who was jeered with racist taunts and had peanuts thrown at him during Monday night’s game at Fenway Park. The offender was eventually kicked out. Yet, as usual, both Baker and Walsh were just as fast in claiming that these kinds of “unfortunate” incidents do “not reflect the city, who we are as Boston.”
Except they do.
State and city leaders need to realize that to address honestly as grievous a sin as racism, they need to acknowledge how deeply embedded it is in the culture of this city. Any apology to Jones is lessened when, in the same breath, Baker and Walsh are trying to polish away anything that might again tarnish the city’s reputation.
Perhaps they should have taken their cues from Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, who called what happened to Jones, an All-Star center fielder, “a shame on the city” and “the worst of Boston.” She told my Globe colleague John R. Ellement that “something about the climate here” allowed people to “think that, in a crowded stadium, they could shout out these words, and not only would they not be arrested — but the people around them would find it acceptable. And that speaks to something very deep.’’
It speaks to the layers-deep racism that has become as much a part of this city’s national image as clam chowder and winning sports teams. What happened to Jones does not surprise people of color, but it breaks our hearts. This is our home, a place we have chosen to live, and even in an arena where there should be no greater concern than the game’s score, a potentially racist act lurks like a ghoul. Shocked politicians apologized to Jones, but when I heard the news I nodded with sadness and bitter familiarity. For many, the Jones incident is news; for those who know better and understand how it feels when an epithet is sharpened and aimed directly at you, it’s just another demoralizing day.
Last year, Walsh launched public conversations on race so he clearly realizes that there is much hard work to be done. Both he and Baker would do well to remember that when racist acts occur — and they happen even when most people fail to notice — the point is to apologize to the victim, and not also become an apologist for the city.
Of course, to do that, our leaders must stop talking about what Boston isn’t, and recognize exactly what Boston is.