Despite its rich history and liberal politics, Boston’s reputation is eclipsed by a dark shadow of racism. Racial tension notoriously escalated in the capital of Massachusetts during the 1970s when white residents violently protested school desegregation. Today, Boston sports fans are still unwelcoming toward black athletes, subjecting them to racist taunting and hostility. Meanwhile, overt racism in the city can even be felt by visitors like comedian Michael Che, who blasted Boston as “the most racist city I’ve ever been to” on Saturday Night Live earlier this year.
To prove whether or not the city’s infamous reputation is merited, The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigative team conducted an in-depth analysis that quantifies the impact racism has had on black Bostonians. The results were alarming.
According to the report, African Americans have a median net worth of $8, compared to white city dwellers, who have an average net worth of $247,500. The disparaging stats were first uncovered in a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which calculated net worth by subtracting the amount of household debt from their total assets. This means that Black Americans owe just about as much money as the combined value of what they own. The report also found that Caribbean blacks had an average of $12,000, Puerto Ricans have $3,020, and Dominicans have $0.
According to James Jennings, a professor emeritus of race, politics, and urban policy at Tufts University, wealth inequality between whites and black was generated by decades of systemic racism. “A lot of times when Boston engages in looking at itself around race, it focuses on attitudes and prejudices,” he told the Globe. “With that, Boston certainly has made a lot of progress, but Boston needs to start looking at structural inequality—racial hierarchy, poverty, academic achievement—to move the needle forward.”
“Spotlight” also revealed disturbing stats on how the racial divide has hurt black workers. For example, African Americans held just 4.6% of official and managerial positions in 2015; black unemployment was more than double the rate of white workers in 2014; and The Vault, the organization of Boston’s most powerful business leaders, has no black members.
Here are other ways in which racism has plagued Boston’s African American community.
Look at Boston’s lauded colleges and realize black students remain rare; the percentage of black enrollment at many top universities has not increased appreciably in three decades, stuck in the single digits.
Look at our political institutions and try to recall how many black politicians have been elected to statewide office—or to the top job in City Hall—in the last half century. (Answer: two.)
Peek, if you can, into corporate boardrooms in Massachusetts, where only 1% of board members at publicly traded firms are black. Step into the newsrooms and front offices of media organizations anywhere in Boston, including the Globe’s Page 1 deliberations, and see few black faces.
And look at the area’s middle-class black neighborhoods—if you can find one. There also are not many downtown restaurants and bars where black patrons can go spontaneously and see others who look like them. Living in Boston can be a particularly isolating experience for black professionals.
Read part one of the Spotlight Team’s BOSTON. RACISM. IMAGE. REALITY. series here.