New employee orientation at Big Sister begins with a quiz about Boston’s history. Nobody aces the quiz. The new recruits know the names of our sports heroes; they know the names of our revolutionaries; they know the name of the longest serving mayor of Boston. Yet, they have never heard the names Willie Bennett or Charles Stuart; nor have they heard of Mel King or Louise Day Hicks. Does it matter for a new employee to know these names? I was, unfortunately, reminded once again this week why it matters — a lot.
There’s a reason that back in 1989 Charles Stuart believed he could falsely claim a black man had killed his wife and get away with it. I wish that history wouldn’t repeat itself, yet, it does, in too many ways in our beloved city.
I am angry that my city for all the work we have done to move through our past, once again has shown that racism is like a nightmare that we can’t wake up from. It sickens me that this happened, and, at Fenway Park — and that there were children in the bleachers when a racial slur was hurled at Orioles outfielder Adam Jones. The standing ovation for Jones the following night was awesome, but obviously, it’s not enough because yet again another hateful person, this time in the grandstand, uttered a racial slur within earshot of a child.
I have lived in Boston all my life, as did my parents. I was in my first year of college at the University of Massachusetts during busing and was working in a downtown financial services company when Charles Stuart murdered his wife. I am a proud Bostonian. And, I am committed to racial justice as every Bostonian should be — regardless of how long one has called Boston “home.”
If we are going to be a part of Boston’s success, then we must be committed to addressing its failures. Should we say that what happened at Fenway Park this week could happen anywhere? As much as we want to say it’s just a few people, there are threads of racism that run through our city that we must acknowledge, and do something about. What ever happened to One Boston?
We need to get out of our tribes. Let’s face it, we all live, and many of us work, in tribes. We stick close to those who validate our upbringing and make us feel comfortable. We share stories of places we’ve been and people we know; we share music and cultural norms. We “get” each other and can complete each other’s sentences.
By staying in this bubble we are not only ignorant of others’ experiences, we are keeping people who are not like us excluded. It is not enough to attend diversity and inclusion trainings, and it’s not enough to diversify our boards and staff. We need to form relationships with people who don’t come from our neck of the woods, who don’t share the same college mascot and may not know the lyrics of “Sweet Caroline.”
Perhaps one day every new employee of Big Sister will know all of our city’s history and be committed to creating One Boston that is more than a tagline.
I hope those who decided to use Fenway Park to spew their hate get named with an accompanying picture of them splashed across all media channels. And, I truly hope they come from oh, maybe Omaha or someplace like that.
Deborah Re is the CEO of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. “As You Were Saying” is a regular Herald feature. We invite readers to submit guest columns of no more than 600 words. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns are subject to editing and become Herald property.
Please note: While it is so important for us to speak up on issues affecting our community, Deb recognizes that racism anywhere is racism everywhere, and meant no harm in singling out Omaha. Ultimately, we are proud to lend our voice to an important ongoing conversation about race and our city.