Somewhere, Michael Che is enjoying an “I told you so” moment.
The comedian upset a lot of us back in February when he described Boston as “the most racist city I’ve ever been to.” He made that statement during Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Cue the avalanche of local indignant responses, racist slurs and threats, and clueless comments aimed at Che. The black comedian was wrong, they said. He was a racist, himself, said others. And many, many began their comments saying, “I am white, but I’ve never seen the racism he’s talking about.”
Maybe they get it now — now that the racism black folks know about firsthand was centerfield, again, on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park. Last week it was Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones' turn to say he was not only “called the N word a handful of times," but was also pelted with a bag of peanuts for good measure. That rabid Red Sox fan and a few others were promptly ejected from Fenway. And a chorus of officials rushed to apologize — The Red Sox organization, Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Walsh. The mayor said, “It is an unfortunate incident and it should not reflect the city or who we are as Boston.”
Except, as Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham has written, it does. Both Che’s and Jones’ experiences are not surprising to those of us who must navigate Boston’s racial climate in situations unseen by most white area residents. It’s why comedian Che responded to an angry online comment from one woman by saying — “Talk to your closest black friend and ask them to explain it to you.” Ironically, the day before the Jones incident, I had been in phone conversations with two people of color from out of town. They are both being courted for important jobs here. Each had asked mutual acquaintances for someone to talk to about the Boston they’d read and heard about. From two different people, the same question: “Is it really that bad?”
Adam Jones was greeted with a standing ovation when he returned to Fenway the night after the taunting. But, I know that can’t erase the memory of the ugliness. Sadly, Jones says he’s endured racist taunts in past visits to the Fenway ball field, but this time it was so bad he had to speak out about it. By the way, past and current Red Sox players of color have been slurred, too.
The President of the Boston NAACP observes that not only is “there is something about the climate here” that “allows people to feel comfortable shouting out these words,” but that also “the people around them would find it acceptable.” Tanisha Sullivan’s point was underscored just one night after Jones talked about hearing the N-word. Another rowdy fan screamed the slur at the Kenyan woman singing the national anthem. This is why I’ve always been reluctant to attend any sporting event in Boston, even if the offer came with VIP tickets.
I’ll add my voice to those who want to see policies that would go beyond the all-around apologies to Adam Jones. Permanently blocking them from Fenway — as the Red Sox did for the first time to that last fan — would certainly send a message. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said often, “The law cannot make a man love me,” but, he pointed out, “behavior can be regulated.” Whether fair or not, Boston’s reputation as a city of racist incidents clings, and is now further cemented. We’ll really be Boston Strong when we deal with the consequences of that reality.