Reimer: It's OK to acknowledge Boston might have problem with race

Alex Reimer
December 14, 2017 - 1:19 pm

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There is an overwhelming volume of evidence that shows Boston is more racially segregated, and unwelcoming to people of color, than other major cities in the U.S. It doesn’t mean modern-day Boston is akin to Selma, Ala. during Jim Crow or that the area is crawling with bigots. But the troubling statistics and first-person accounts point to systemic issues that have not improved over the last several decades. These pieces of proof are an examination of the problems that ail this world-class city, not an attack. 

The Globe is publishing a weeklong Spotlight series on the highly charged issue of race and Boston. Some of the anecdotes in the stories are silly. On Tuesday, in its expose of the healthcare system, the Globe includes tales from two black women who say they experienced racial discrimination at two of the city’s renowned hospitals. Monique, who declined to give her last name, says she was experiencing flu symptoms one night and decided to take the bus to Mass. General. There, she felt the staff treated the white patients more warmly. No greater context is provided. 

The other story comes from Shirley Coffey, who says she went to Brigham and Women’s “years ago,” only to see white patients who arrived later get called before her. No additional detail, such as Coffey’s ailments, were disclosed. Kirk Minihane says he spoke with Coffey, who could not remember what she was suffering from or how long ago she went. Minihane also says Coffey told him her son is good friends with the journalist, Liz Kowalczyk, who wound up interviewing her. 

That information discredits the relevancy of Coffey’s anecdote. But it does not disprove the greater point of the article, which highlights the self-segregation seen in Boston’s healthcare system. According to the piece, black Bostonians are more than three times as likely to get care at Boston Medical Center and nearly twice as likely to go to Carney Hospital as whites. At Mass. General, meanwhile, whites are four times as likely to be admitted than blacks.

In part one of the series, the Globe publishes a survey that says Boston was voted the least welcoming city to people of color in 2010, 2013, 2017 among black people. Though Boston is 23 percent black, there are only four middle class black neighborhoods in Greater Boston, fewer than 45 other metropolitan areas. There’s also a startling lack of African-Americans in business leadership positions. The “Vault,” which is an organization of Boston’s most powerful business executives, has no black people among its 20 members. 

Perhaps most jarring of all, the median net worth of black households in Boston is $8. For white households, the figure jumps to $247,500. 

That’s indicative of a major problem with racial imbalance. The humorous visual of Globe reporters sitting outside Fenway Park and counting the number of black fans who enter doesn’t dismiss that. 

The sports section of the Spotlight series, titled “The bigot in the stands, and other stories,” is one of the weakest. Writer Adrian Walker recounts the old tales of Pumpsie Green, Bill Russell and Tom Yawkey. Though the history factors into Boston’s perception, it doesn’t cover any new ground.

It also includes irrelevant non-sequiturs, such as mentioning David Price's dog and Gordon Hayward's salary. 

But the centerpiece of the article, Adam Jones, exemplifies the problems with the current debate. As Gerry Callahan and Minihane have pointed out over the last eight months, there are some questionable aspects to Jones’ story. It is odd, for example, that nobody who witnessed the reported slur has identified him or herself. But the topic is about more than Jones. It is about Torii Hunter, CC Sabathia, David Price, Barry Bonds, Gary Matthews Jr. and scores of black athletes who say they’ve heard racial slurs directed at them inside Fenway Park. Earlier this year, I spoke to a fan who says he heard the N-word directed at Jones from the bleachers in 2013 as well. 

Either all of those athletes have conspired against Boston, or their stories are true. The sheer number of anecdotes adds to their legitimacy. 

Any black person who spends time in Boston, even for a brief visit, has a better grasp on the city’s racial climate than white folks who have been here for any period of time. They know what it is like to be black in Boston. We do not.

When so many people say the same thing, and statistics support their gripes, it’s worth listening. 

K&C - Kirk unearths the truth behind the Globe's piece on racism in Boston's hospitals 12-14-17

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