Two images and two hopes

So 27 srpna 2005

This is probably the most obvious conclusion from reading of all the materials about the Boston Black community (shouldn’t I use term “neighborhood” as describing just geographical proximity of its members?), but in the spirit of Len’s theorem that all sociology is either common sense or non-sense, I should not forget to record it as well.

There seems to be two images, two lines of thought, and two hopes present in both primary and secondary literature on the Boston Black community. First there are those (let’s call them “liberals”, but it is not a good label, because it implies too much homogeneity in their thinking and too much about what they think) who think that the most important things in the Boston are causes — prejudice, racism, government neglect and many others. I do not know whether they have any hope at all, but if anything then they would like to install justice and apportion blame to all who caused the current situation. The other group of people is much less concerned about the causes of the current situation and much more about its possible solutions. I have two examples to show it. First is from the article “Putting our minds together for community—young leaders share their wisdom on prejudice, bad schools, lost opportunities” (Boston Globe, March 5, 2000, C3):

There is also a problem on the development side, or the side of the built environment, where we don’t really realize the potential and value of what we have. The number one thing of value in our city is our intellectual capital, our ability to put our minds together to think about an idea. That is something that all of us here as panelists share, how we think about things. But the problem is, while there is an incredible resource structure in the city … it is inaccessible to people that live in the neighborhoods.

So we have these great schools, these great museums, and these great places, but even the young people that are in my program in MYTOWN couldn’t tell you where the MFA was. They couldn’t tell you the last time they’d been to the JFK Library.

All of the wealth that we have in the city, [and] the 574,000 Bostonians who live here and their children, the 60,000 young people that are in the schools, they may as well live in another state. That’s a problem in terms of our resources, how we distribute them, how we understand them, and how we value the people that live here. It’s a big problem.


The second thing is to understand that we are a city of great wealth, wealth that is material, wealth that is unseen as well as seen, and to put that to work for our city. … Take all those … underutilized resources—urban youth, urban communities—and let it be a benefit to the community, because we are sitting on vast assets that we do not realize.

So many people come from outside of Boston, from all over the world, and tell us how great it is, but we are blind to it.

This sounds to me like a great example of speech by experienced community development professional and I would dare to say, politician. It doesn’t say much about specific proposed solutions, but it offers unification of all parties (“That is something that all of us here as panelists share, how we think about things.”) and then to all those such united parties his own solution is put into their mouth (“But the problem is, while there is an incredible resource structure in the city … it is inaccessible to people that live in the neighborhoods.”). All language is economical, promising, and very non-specific.

Contrast this with this quotation from the article (created in context of the Democratic Convention in Boston) “Jesse Jackson’s Dressing–Down of Boston on Race Draws Rebuttals” (Mens’ News Daily, August 1, 2004):

Jesse Jackson, the nation’s leading purveyor of identity politics, came to Boston to practice his shtick and received his comeuppance.


This was the past that Jackson sought to exploit when he came into town for the Democrats’ convention with one of his familiar lectures aimed at eliciting concessions in the form of racial preferences and wealth redistribution. Speaking to the press on the second day of the convention, Jackson publicly chastised the city for what he saw as its lack of racial progress and failure to adequately serve as a “shining light on the hill.”


But then an unexpected thing happened: Boston’s political leadership did not bend over backwards in a fit of apologies to appease the Rev. Jackson. Instead, they fired back in defense of the city’s strides in race relations.

“It’s nice he comes into our city and makes a statement like that,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sarcastically retorted. He told the Boston Herald that in his 11 years as mayor, Jackson has never contacted him to discuss any racial or other issue involving the city.

African-American activists who actually work regularly in Boston’s black neighborhoods also took issue with Jackson’s comments. “Jesse’s talking trash and blowing smoke,” said the Rev. Eugene Rivers, chairman of the Ten Point Coalition. “This is Jesse’s showboat.”

Rivers seconded Menino’s assessment of Jackson’s lack of involvement in Boston: “Jesse Jackson has never, ever come to me or any of the black clergy that work on the streets of the city of Boston. Jesse has been too big to actually meet with the black clergy that work in the trenches and have been doing that for many years, so we are sort of mildly amused that Jesse has so much to say about something he knows so little about.”

The Boston Herald also reported the reaction of a black state legislator who immigrated to the Boston area from Haiti in 1969. “I guess the reverend is entitled to his opinion,” said Democratic state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, “but as an individuals who was raised here, in the city of Boston, I have seen an experienced major changes. To tell me there hasn’t been progress is not real for me.”

I abbreviated the article just to parts relevant to the discussed issue and I have removed all opinions of the author (which were rather conservative). However, I think that even this list of quotations makes a pretty good picture of the rift between two different pictures about the Black community problems (of course, I do not pretend that Jessie’s speech was just motivated by pure intellectual reasons, and I can easily accept that he was probably more trying to make points without any real concern and knowledge about the reality on the ground). If there was any Boston miracle, then it seems to me that one of the most important components of it was this ability to step over the past hurt and talk with people who were (and who still are) viewed as one’s enemies.

Which leads to more personal comment on whole issue. I have to repeat to myself, that if I want to make something sensible from my research then I have to use whole of my person in it and so it is no surprise that I will see in my research issues of forgivness and reconcilliation. Which also reminds me that I should study some history of White-Black relations in 1970s’ Boston.

{added later} Again, it is about hope. I remember talking with a pastor who claimed that the biggest issue of the young gang members which led them to gangs is lack of hope for their future. Unless you are a basketball wizard, super-super-smart, from rich family (at least so that they can afford college), or you go into army, there is no hope for you to get out of Roxbury and the only way which you were told by your parents (if there are any) and people around you is that the only hope is to sell drugs and make quick bucks.

Category: research Tagged: dissertation BostonMiracle