Small Steps Towards a Less Racist City
This past weekend I had the pleasure of hosting “Boston Millennials Take the Mic” with Boston Toastmasters as part of the Fierce Urgency of Now festival sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The mission of the festival was to highlight, connect and empower millennials of color. Our event was similar to a regular Toastmasters meeting with three of our members speaking to the theme of the festival.
The event was powerful. To hear my colleagues share their personal stories and struggles, which then opened up the door for others to come up and share their experiences living in Boston. It was raw and real. It gave everyone a voice to share how some of their experiences haven’t been favorable and at times, unfair. It was important for all of us to be in the room together. To admit change cannot just happen from people of color, it needs to include white people too.
We can become more educated on the issue, but sometimes you cannot correct ignorance. For example, there is a project called Harvard Project Implicit that aims to test your unconscious bias is on a series of topics. One of the tests on race proves that “most Americans have an automatic preference for white people over black.” In talking about this, this white male I know said to a group of people that he already knew he had a preference for white people.
Really? How is that acceptable to say in front of a room? What was even more disturbing was he was also supposed to be part of the Boston Millennials Take the Mic event but blew it off the day of. His excuse was “he totally spaced out and overslept”. It was noon, on a Saturday and we had been planning for weeks. This is the type of behavior that is unacceptable and contributes towards Boston being deemed as “the most Racist city in America.”
Although I did not have the strength to confront him that day, I share the story here on a bigger platform to recognize this is not tolerable. I call this cowardly and I will not stand for this type of disrespect. So please, put your ego aside and treat people as they are equal.
Why this matters to me
I was particularly attracted to being part of this festival and conversation because it’s really important to me. Growing up in a small town in NH that’s 85% white, I hadn’t truly experienced diversity. But I knew I craved to be around people from different backgrounds and cultures. When I got to Boston 10+ years ago, I enjoyed being around a mix of people besides just other white people.
As people share their stories, as Black Lives Matter has become a movement, my eyes are more open to the challenges, inequalities, and disparities for people of color. I started to read the stories and facts behind racism in Boston. The Boston Globe has been running a spotlight series examining racism and discrimination in Boston. I began to understand why this is an issue, and started to think about what I can do to help.
Is Boston racist?
It depends who you ask. I’d like to not think of it that way, but then I started to learn more. The Daily Show did a skit on the topic, “How Racist is Boston.” You can see that most of the white people don’t see Boston as racist. It’s similar to the stance I would say. Then you hear the interviews of everyone else who has experienced racism firsthand, and the view is entirely different. The first step for all of us to work on this is becoming aware and educated.
For example, The Boston Globe describes that the median net worth of non-immigrant African-American households in the Boston area is just $8, the lowest in a five-city study of wealth disparities. It’s hard to ignore the dramatic contrast to the $247,500 net worth for white households in the Boston area.[http://www.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/boston-racism-image-reality/series/image/].
Those statistics were jarring to me. It made me reflect on my team at work and think to myself, we need to be better. When we’re interviewing, we need to see more diversity in our candidates. We can’t be part of the problem contributing to or widening the gap. If you want to make a difference, it starts from the bottom up. Small changes do add up.
Another small step is the recognition of all-white male panels and speaker selection, and how it should not be a thing but it is. How can we be better? As organizers of conferences or events, we HAVE to represent not only women but people of color.
Change starts from the bottom up
I kept this in mind as I hosted a networking event, Mindset Mixer, this past week. It was imperative to me to try and 1) not have an all-white crowd and 2) have diversity among my speakers. Let’s highlight the stories of incredible people of all backgrounds. The result? People connected through their stories, with people coming from similar places and inequalities. It is a small ripple, but these small steps add up.
At the Boston Millennials Take the Mic event our president, Jazz Dottin, gave her speech from the perspective of an African American woman in Boston. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in saying, “silence is betrayal.” She then later said explained how if you witness racism and do not take action to correct it, your silence is an encouragement for that behavior to continue.
So I write this today to encourage you not to stay silent. Though Boston may be welcoming, understand it may not always be. There are inequalities, but we have to start changing the deep routed patterns of an old city. Let’s continue the conversation and keep sharing these stories.
Although I can’t know how it feels to be in your shoes, I stand with and beside you as an ally.