What's surprising to me about the recent reaction to Kyrie Irving's mention of racism in Boston is that anyone's surprised about it. I mean, just google "racism in Boston" and you can find a list of resources. Personally, when I think of Boston, I think of Boston seafood (clam chowder, fried scrod...), Boston cream pie (not actually a pie), the accent, and racism, not necessarily in that order.
I mean, there was the Boston busing riots, which took place before I moved there (but really not that long before), but when I lived there I heard how mob boss Whitey Bulger portrayed himself as a local defender against Chinatown gangs (and I was there when he skipped town with lottery winnings, courtesy of an FBI tip-off, in a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me moment).
I was also there when the city went nuts over the Stuart murder. Well, it went nuts when they thought the murderer was an African American carjacker, but the media and populace were more muted on the revelation that it was the white husband killing his wife for insurance money.
On a more personal note, Boston is the only place I've lived where I've been called a chink. Aside from that, I mostly just experienced what the kids these days call "microaggressions" that I've experienced elsewhere.
But when I moved to Boston for college and later spent time working there, I was amazed at the frequency (and I moved there from Iowa, so much for the New England snobbery toward the Midwest). Some that stick in my mind:
- "Do you speak English?" (What answer are they expecting: "No, I do not speak English")
- A woman handing out flyers at the bottom of the MIT Mass Ave steps spotted me and walked all the way up the steps (it's a long way) to hand me a flyer, which turned to be an ad for English as a second language lessons.
- A classmate, from New Hampshire actually, telling me that Asian men were unattractive, present company excluded (it pains me that his girlfriend was Chinese-American - you can do better, lady).
- A repair guy asking, rhetorically, "You guys don't like Koreans, right?"
- A man in the supermarket commenting how he's been to China and how polite my people are.
- A fellow student in the computer lab offering to talk to the lab supervisor on my behalf about some faulty hardware, as if somehow he had in with the supervisor or as if I wouldn't be able to approach him, I'm not sure which.
- A classmate telling me how scary it was to hear her boyfriend talk to his family in an Asian language.
- A coworker asking me to supply speech samples to his language recognition group because they needed foreign born speakers. Maybe my lack of a Boston accent confused him, but in fact I was born in Boston.
The problem is not just white people. I heard Jews talking about Blacks, Jehovah Witnesses talking about Jews, Indians talking about gays...I didn't realize how much I was getting too used to all that tribal prejudice until I moved to California, where mostly everyone complains about Mexicans (I'll save that for another blog).
I was born and educated in Boston, but I've never missed it. Except the clam chowder and fried scrod.