Addressing racism is key to harnessing power of the arts
We are writing in response to your Spotlight series on racism in Boston (“Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” Dec. 10-16), which sought to answer the question of whether Boston still deserved its reputation as a place unwelcoming to black people. We can say that it’s not as unwelcoming as it once was, but racism, obviously, persists and is holding the city back.
During the yearlong community process to write Boston Creates, the city’s blueprint for harnessing the power of the arts and creative community, the subject of addressing racism and cultural differences came up repeatedly. The final version of the plan notes that “entrenched, systemic inequities around race” have put up barriers to arts and culture. The plan calls for the use of art to foster conversation across populations “about historic race and class divisions in Boston.” The plan also recommends that “diverse voices are included in funding decisions” and that the city support “the efforts of Boston arts and cultural organizations to better serve and engage diverse audiences and visitors through programming and marketing.”
This isn’t an unrealistic goal. Art has long been used to address issues of social justice, and for many of the city’s arts and cultural organizations, doing this is a part of their mission. At the Boston Children’s Chorus, our participants come from 110 ZIP codes in the Boston area. Their experiences show that art and music can build bridges of understanding among diverse races and ethnicities.
Examine the link between race
While I was thrilled to see the Spotlight Team address the deep inequalities that exist for people of color in Boston with its seven-part “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” series, it’s true that this only scratches the surface of this topic.
One of the key areas that I hope to see addressed in the future is the issue of racial inequality as applied to homelessness, particularly family homelessness. African-Americans and Hispanics make up roughly 20 percent of the state’s population, but represent more than three-quarters of the population of individuals in homeless families.
Since 2008, Massachusetts has experienced one of the largest increases in family homelessness of all states in the country, with the city of Boston ranking fourth of all US cities in terms of the highest number of individuals in homeless families. It’s time to look at the role race is playing in these alarming statistics.
We could gain insight from views
of hospitals’ own employees
The Spotlight article “Color line persists, in sickness as in health” (Dec. 12), about Boston’s hospitals and their welcome to black patients, might have profited from examining the respective extent of black employees. It would have been useful to know the number of all black employees at each hospital, their respective levels of employment, and how they feel about their hospital’s responsiveness and welcome to themselves. The feeling of comfort by many patients often begins with who among hospital staff they first encounter, whether the person is a housekeeper, clerk, manager, nurse, or physician.
The writer is former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.