BOSTON BENEATH THE SURFACE
While Boston, Massachusetts is possibly one of the most historic cities in the country, it is also one of the most gentrified. According to a 2020 study conducted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Boston is the third most gentrified city in the country, trailing just behind San Francisco and Denver. Furthermore, the study shows that 77% of gentrified neighborhoods around the country are primarily composed of Black or Latino residents.
This is not a new phenomenon in Boston. In the 19th century, many Black Bostonians lived in Beacon Hill, but were slowly displaced to the South End as gentrification took over. Today, Beacon Hill is the most expensive neighborhood in the city and has a population that is 86% Caucasian. Neighborhoods around the South End—such as North Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan—that are now predominantly Black were mainly white, Jewish neighborhoods in the 1970s. Between 1968 and 1972, these neighborhoods went to being only 10% white. More recently, the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, East Boston and Roxbury have been subject to the brunt of hyper-gentrification.
To this day, Boston is still a very segregated city. Neighborhoods such as Roxbury and East Boston are marked by racial division and are subject to much higher rates of displacement due to gentrification. Not only is the issue at hand one of de-facto segregation and the detriments of hyper-gentrification, but it is also symptomatic of the greater issue of systemic racism. According to the Boston Federal Bank Reserve and the Boston Globe, the average net worth of a white household in Boston is $247,000, while the average net worth of a Black family in Roxbury is only $8.
In the time of Covid-19, the issues posed by gentrification have been amplified by the economic recession and widespread job loss, so it is more important than ever to give back to local businesses that may be struggling. In neighborhoods like Roxbury, there is a rich sense of community and culture associated with food, especially because many of the residents of these neighborhoods are immigrants who have brought the traditions of their families and home to Boston.
Since travel has been extremely limited for almost a year now and being confined to a single place can become draining, here are a few Black-owned businesses in Roxbury that you may not have tried yet.
Ashur Restaurant is owned and operated by the Ashur family, who moved from Somalia to Roxbury in 2007 and serve North African and Middle Eastern dishes. Ashur Restaurant is renowned around the Roxbury and South Boston neighborhoods, and is described by Roxbury’s city councilor, Tito Jackson, as being an “intersection of culture, community, and college.” If you ever find yourself in the area, some of the must-tries on the menu include the braised lamb and the Somali chai tea.
Bintimani is another great, authentic restaurant specializing in West African cuisine. The couple who operates Bintimani, Baindu and Sahr Josiah-Faeduwor, moved from Sierra Leone and opened the restaurant in Lower Roxbury in 2009. After moving to Boston, the Josiah-Faeduwors quickly noticed that there was nowhere that served West African food or dishes they grew up on in Sierra Leone, so the pair opened Bintimani. It is a small restaurant with limited seating, but the owners describe Bintimani as a place for people to meet and be able to say, “This tastes just like my mother’s cooking.”
Lastly, the Dudley Cafe is serving not only some of the neighborhood’s best coffee, but they are also giving back to the community. In conjunction with Madison Park Technical High School, Dudley Cafe is offering internships and employment opportunities for young people in Roxbury. In addition to the community initiatives, the Dudley Cafe has a great array of coffees and breakfast and lunch options, and it converts to a wine bar during happy hour.
While it’s not quite the same as flying to different countries, one can still get a taste for culinary travel by checking out the restaurants above and all of the other gems that these gentrified neighborhoods have to offer.