Last night I had dinner and drinks with (a somewhat fatigued) Atari-Age. He has compared himself to an amnesia-prone squirrel. On this, I can not say. What I can testify to, though, is that he sure seems like a keen guy. Plus, he is easy on the eyes, as they say. I look forward to learning more about him.
One question that came up (and others have asked either directly or indirectly in e-mail) concerned just how opaque are my rose-colored glasses when I look at Boston? To answer, they are pretty darn rosy. Having left Texas behind for the year, I am more than excited to be in a city. I like having access to little things like, you know, public transportation. Eating food that does not originate at a chain restaurant ranks highly as well.
Rest assured, though, the old, cranky, grim GayProf lives. In particular, I know that Boston has a complicated history in terms of race. After all, it is the city where this happened:
Yes, that would be the infamous picture outside City Hall where white-youth Joseph Rakes stabbed African-American attorney Theodore Landsmark over the issue of busing in 1977. In other ways, the city has had less dramatic, but equally disturbing, signs of consistent racism. The Boston Red Sox, for instance, was the last major baseball team to integrate. Clearly the city has a grim past when it comes to racism, segregation, and patriotic emblems.
Given that part of my job involves me actively thinking about race’s meaning in the United States, I would like to believe that I am not so enamored with my new locale that I would ignore these types of issues. It would not speak very highly of my professional training.
Texas’ racism simply appears more obvious and dangerous, perhaps, than contemporary Massachusetts racism. Early in the Spring of this past year, two white teens dragged a Latino youth out of a party. Allegedly, the 16-year-old Latino had kissed a Euro-American girl at the party. In retaliation, the two white teens kicked the Latino teen in the head with steel-toe boots, burned him with cigarettes, and sodomized him with a pipe. Racial slurs and jeering accompanied the attack. The attack finished with the youth being doused in bleach. For over 12 hours, the Latino teen lay in the yard naked and near death.
Less-gruesome, but just as disturbing, stories about racism's persistence come out of Texas. Indeed, both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University (the state’s two major public institutions) have had to address predominantly white student groups that hosted “black-face” parties. At the University of Texas, students vandalized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statute on his federal holiday. Texas A&M doesn't have a statue of any person of color to be vandalized.
All across Texas, one can see bumper-stickers with the Confederate Battle Flag and the slogan, “It’s Not Hate, It’s Heritage.” Of course, the stickers’ owners don’t wish to examine that their heritage had a great legacy of hate. This also, by the way, don’t seem to know or care that the Battle Flag was not the original Confederate national flag. Nor do the talk about the fact that nobody really used the Battle Flag until the 1960s. That, though, is another entry entirely.
Compared to that barrage of news, it’s tempting to think of the awfully-Democratic-blue Massachusetts as a utopia in comparison. This, I think, becomes one of the major problems in thinking about racism in the U.S. today. With the exception of the obviously horrific states like Texas, Mississippi, or Arkansas, most Americans are lulled into a sense of peace about the current status quo.
Yet, Boston’s notions of a “city of neighborhoods” can (and does) become easily translated into another means of segregation. Naming membership to a particular neighborhood can also mean excluding those “who don’t belong.” According to recent census data, Boston whites are likely to live in neighborhoods that are also 90% white.
Though politically at odds with each other, both Boston and Texas suggest the continuous and unresolved issues about race in the nation. As mentioned on this blog, a 2003 study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University concluded that the entire U.S. is actually becoming more segregated over the past decade. Indeed, many people are either unaware of these issues or seem to have just tossed up their hands with the resignation that racism will never be solved.
All of this is to say that I am still thinking about race (job or otherwise). Nowhere in the U.S. have the promises of social and economic equality been achieved, especially not Boston or Texas.
In the meantime, though, I still will enjoy being away from Texas. I just need to get the image below printed on a kite so I can run along the pier with it.