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Boston: America’s Most Racist College Town

The sad reality of admission to one of Boston’s top universities as a Black student.

By Nia Mclean

Photo by Pinterest

Boston has a rich history rooted in education. As home to the first public school in the United States, the nation’s first public library, and the illustrious Harvard University, any high-achieving student knows Boston is the nation’s educational capital.

This legacy set a tone for the rest of the city, as Boston is home to over 35 higher learning institutions and 152,000 college students, according to a 2010 report by the city of Boston. These colleges are amongst some of the most selective colleges in the nation, with Harvard and MIT boasting 4% acceptance rates and producing countless notable alumni.

While Boston has a reputation as home to Harvard, MIT, and Tufts alike, it also has a deep history of racism. Bostonians violently resisted desegregation, and the Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate. More recently, fans at Fenway park shouted the n-word at Black MLB Baseball player Adam Jones.

Some people might argue that Boston is one of the most progressive cities in the country. However, Boston is largely performative. To see this, simply look at Boston’s leadership: Massachusetts has 200 representatives and senators in the state Legislature - according to the Boston Globe, six are black. There are no black people in Massachusetts state congressional delegation, nor among statewide officeholders, and the only black individual to win election to statewide office since 1972 is former governor Deval Patrick.

Boston University freshman Meron Nephtalem notes that in Boston, students are “surrounded by white culture,” while questioning the legitimacy of white culture, asking “what even is white culture?” In Boston, white culture includes worshiping an Ideology that was never meant to include Black people: patriotism. In Boston, Good Friday is a work day, but Patriot’s Day is a Holiday. The Massachusetts’ license plate says “the Spirit of America.” It seems like every other street is named after a former slave owner. As the heart of the American Revolution, Boston is flooded with reminders of a country that recognized black people as ⅗ of a person.

Boston’s racism is quantifiable. The Boston Globe says the average white family in Boston has a net worth of $247,500, while the average Black family has a net worth of $8. Cities that value and respect their people don’t allow them to be worth less than a one-day pass on the T.

Let’s narrow this phenomenon down to education. According to the Boston Globe, Black enrollment at Harvard was 5% in 1980 and 5% in 2015. Black enrollment at BU was 4% in both 1980 and 2015. Between these two years, Northeastern’s Black enrollment dropped from 4% down to 3%. Black people make up 13.5 percent of the population, so why don’t they make up 13.5 percent of the population at Boston’s elite schools? Recently Black enrollment numbers have increased - but only after nationwide pressure from George Floyd’s murder. If you need outside pressure to be inclusive, are you actually inclusive?

I am not saying other college towns aren’t discriminatory. According to the Guardian, In 2016 a woman approached several teens visiting Texas A&M (one of the South’s most notable college towns) and asked if they liked her Confederate flag earrings, then other students shouted the n-word at the group. The difference between Boston and rural college towns such as College Station is that College Station doesn’t claim that they are progressive. Boston misleads college students into thinking it is hospitable for Black people by voting blue and waving Black Lives Matter Flags. At least the Black students in College Station know what they are getting into.

So what happens when a high-achieving student is Black? What happens when a Black student wins the educational lottery and is admitted into one of Boston’s top universities? How does a child possibly choose between the education of a lifetime and living in a city that treats them with respect?

They choose education.

Meron Nephtalem says before committing to Boston University she “knew Boston was racist, but as a pre-med student [she] knew there were so many opportunities. [Racism] just something she would have to overcome If she wants to be successful.”

Justin says “My great-uncle went to Northeastern. He warned me [Boston is a] racist city. He also told me it's a good city for opportunity.”

Opportunity. Opportunity is the common denominator for why Black students knowingly sign themselves up for four years of racism.

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