When it comes to race, Boston keeps punching itself in the face
NOTE TO ALL future mayors: Leading Boston means having to say you’re sorry.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh apologized again for a racially insensitive incident in our city, or as my black out-of-state friends call it, “Boston being Boston.” In a tone-deaf tweet to “honor” Black History Month, the Boston Police Department celebrated former Celtics coach Red Auerbach for, among other things, being the first NBA coach to draft a black player.
The social media verdict was swift and correct. Only in Boston would a police department mark Black History Month by recognizing a white man. Black folks can’t even have 28 measly days to themselves. On Monday, Walsh tried to wipe clean this latest smudge on the city’s tarnished reputation.
The mayor called the police department’s tweet “completely inappropriate and a gross misrepresentation” of the city’s observation of Black History Month. “I am personally committing to the people of Boston that we will always honor our black leaders, activists, and trailblazers with the respect they deserve, not just in February, but every day and every month of the year.”
Even in a month designated to recognize black excellence, people of color can’t get the respect they deserve in Boston.
Savaged on social media, BPD claimed its “intentions were never to offend,” then honored Celtics legend Bill Russell. Still, Boston again made national headlines for all the wrong reasons, and at a time when sensibilities were already frayed. Sports radio station WEEI last week suspended one of its hosts, Christian Fauria, for mocking Don Yee, an Asian-American and agent for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Fauria imitated his idea of an “Asian” accent, an ugly stereotype reminiscent of white actor Mickey Rooney’s “yellowface” performance in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Fauria apologized, but Comcast, City of Boston Credit Union, and two state agencies, the Massachusetts Health Connector and the Massachusetts Lottery, still pulled their ads from WEEI. Perhaps hitting that station in the wallet might curb its race-baiting ways, since absolutely nothing else has prevailed. If sports radio is generally a cesspool, WEEI is certainly its deepest end.
And while I’m calling out BPD and WEEI, let me also jab the Globe. Inexplicably and against company policy last week, a sports section headline used the term “illegal alien” to describe the suspect in a drunk driving crash that killed an Indianapolis Colts player and his Uber driver. To describe a human being as “illegal” is an anachronism expected on right-wing outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, not in a mainstream newspaper.
All American cities and towns harbor racism and cultural callousness. In 2016, a Philadelphia radio station fired a sports talk host with a history of making hateful comments. This week, a Chicago television station blamed a graphics “mix-up” for a Winter Olympics story illustrated with “P.F. Chang 2018.” The Games are being hosted by Pyeongchang, South Korea; P.F. Chang’s is an Asian-themed restaurant chain.
Yet no city wears its self-inflicted wounds like Boston. In a city intoxicated with its illustrious past, Boston spends a lot of time trying — and failing — to outrun a history of insensitivity toward people of color. Even when Boston gets it right, like the Red Sox choosing Alex Cora, the team’s first manager of color, or electing a city council with six women of color, this city will never get as much praise as it gets derision wheni thngs go off the rails.
No, Mayor Walsh can’t control what happens on a sports radio station or those who tweet before they think. But, at some point, Boston has to stop punching itself in the face. Incidents are always amplified because here, racism never murmurs. It’s a piercing shriek confirming what so many justifiably believe about our city’s ongoing struggles.
Especially in this era of outrage-prone social media, there are those always waiting for Boston’s next racial misstep. Lately, and perhaps too true to form, Boston isn’t making them wait too long.