A white man, (I will call Bob), recently asked me what the difference was between President’s Obama inviting leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement to the White House and President’s Trump embrace of White Nationalist. I am glad that Bob had the courage to ask the question, challenge his assumptions and help us get to we.
In 1964 my parents moved our family from inner-city Cleveland, Ohio to a rural area thirty miles outside the city. Despite the fact that our six-acre lot provided plenty of distance between our homes, our white neighbors were angry that a black family with seven kids was in such close proximity. They immediately erected a barbed-wire fence that stretched the length of our adjoining properties. On each of the posts, they placed NO TRESPASSING signs. They also flew a Confederate flag. They were joined by other town members with ploys used to get us to move: zoning laws were suddenly unearthed stating that our land was too narrow for building; school officials thought my sisters, brother and I would be better served if we attended another school district where there were already black children…
1. It can be overt and intentional as in White supremacist groups who advocate for and work to eliminate people of color. Think Charlottesville.
2. It can be covert and intentional as in redlining, gerrymandering, housing segregation, confederate statues and symbols, a criminal justice system where black and brown men have a greater chance of going to prison than their white counterparts committing the same crimes.
3. It can be overt and unintentional as in racial jokes and racially offensive Halloween costumes.
4. It can be in modern forms such as in racial slurs…
Race relations in America today don’t feel much changed from when I was in high school in 1968. In my all girls’ Catholic school, as the only black in my class and one of four blacks out of eight hundred students, I learned that race was invisible to whites. I also learned it was best not to talk about race unless you were going to be humorous about it. I claimed every black person as a relative in response to their repeated question, do you know them, whenever they saw someone black. By my senior year, they stopped asking. Any black person walking down the street (and a complete stranger to me) was always one of Debbie’s uncle, aunt or cousin.
At the Michael Cohen hearings, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) came fully prepared to dispute Cohen’s characterization of Trump as a racist. He boldly used the Some of My Friends defense. He invited his long-time black friend, Lynne Patton, to “shed some light” on the dark topic of racism. Meadows introduced Patton to Trump who became a trusted Trump family associate and a HUD administrator in 2017. Meadow’s defense is an old, tired, simplistic explanation for the dismissal of the ugly, pervasive, phenomenon of racism. Yet it worked. Here’s why. Although most Americans agree that cross-racial friendships play a big role in making social progress, most of us do not have friends across racial lines.
It’s true that most Americans believe that racism is still a major problem, but somehow in Boston some perceive it to be only a minor one. It is hard to understand how that conclusion can be drawn especially after the Globe's Spotlight Series on Race. Still, it’s a matter of perspective, or in the case of Boston, it’s also a matter of social privilege and racial myopia. By standard measures of segregation such as evenness of distribution, exposure to potential contact, concentration of physical space, and clustering of identity groups, Boston, as is the case for other American cities, suffers from segregated neighborhoods. Neighborhood segregation and spatial racism contribute to Boston’s racial myopia.