Many New Englanders are tone-deaf with progressive politics

September 29, 2020 5:35 PM

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Writing Through the Distance logo. Photo courtesy of WriteBoston.

Writing Through the Distance logo. Photo courtesy of WriteBoston.

One night we heard gunshots outside. Not far from my house there was a drive-by shooting. I was pretty rattled because there had never been a shooting this close to my house and it was on the street across from the park that's in front of my house. I started telling my friends about it and how more information was being reported by local police officers. I immediately texted my neighbor and he told me he heard it too. We both knew it was a drive-by and what that meant. My school group chat didn’t really get it until I spelled it out for them “someone just fired a gun near my house and drove off.” Then I told the story to some of my future college classmates. When I told them about the drive-by they thought I was referring to a drive-by birthday party, a new fad in the quarantine era. The only person who could fathom someone committing murder from a car was a girl from New York City. This screamed ignorance to me. These same people preach progressivism but don’t know something that is all too common in communities of color. The issues of lower-class people and people of color seemed to make my upper-class high school classmates uncomfortable, especially when it was someone from those groups explaining their experience.

I grew up in Hyde Park, specifically on Fairmount Hill, on the border of Boston and Milton. In less than a five-minute walk, I can be in either the projects or the suburbs, something I didn’t really think of before seventh grade. I went to a Boston Public School near my house and by the time I was leaving, I was one of four white students in my grade. I didn’t really think much of this because half of my family was Irish-Italian and the other half was Dominican so I was around all shades of people. I didn’t think of socioeconomic disparities as an elementary student but I never got the impression of inequality, especially living in such a diverse neighborhood.

That all changed when I started at my new school. First of all, I knew no one and was terrified. Things got better when I did a week-long program before school started and met two of my best friends from school. They both had gone to BPS schools and were students of color. With one I had a common Dominican background and with another, I had common nerdy interests and seemed to click. It felt great to be around them, but the white kids didn’t seem bad either. It’d take a couple of years for me to realize the discrepancies. 

The kids I went to school with were truly a diverse bunch when it came to socioeconomics. Some kids lived in mansions while others lived in affordable housing. At first, when I was examining these trends at my school I only really thought of myself. I immediately noticed I was on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, which was only reinforced later in high school. Most of my friends and classmates lived in the suburbs, went to well-funded schools, had college graduated parents, and were well prepared for the school. I was a middle-class student and my parents were already paying lots of money just for my schooling, which doesn’t get better now that both my sister and I are going into college. 

As I had examined my own place on the socioeconomic ladder, I also examined the place of others. It was then when I had realized that while I thought I was worse off in comparison to my classmates, there were others who were worse off than just me. If I was already feeling some kind of inferiority to my other classmates, I could barely imagine what they were feeling. Even though I am Latino, I appear completely white and so people don’t make assumptions on my wealth, education, the language I speak, and so on. While I was better off than most of my classmates of color, I still felt obligated to do what I could for my community and for my friends.

In New England, we pride ourselves on being one of the most progressive and accepting places in the country. After all, there is almost a culture of perceived superiority in the Northeastern States and California that we aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, and there is equal opportunity for all. I’m still not sure if it’s an elaborate lie or if we have been blinded by our arrogance and self-righteousness but New England is very far from an ideal society. Boston, where I’m from, is plagued by segregation, creating completely different environments. The best schools in Boston are exam schools– and are also predominantly white institutions– with notable names and many high paid, working alumni that donate lots of money to their alma mater. Additionally, Boston is surrounded by some extremely wealthy suburbs. Public school funding is allocated by property tax and while the disparities of property tax are not huge between Boston and its neighbors, the vast majority of Boston housing units are occupied by renters who do not pay property tax. BPS funding is not demonstrative of the needs of the many residents. The state and local funding should be based on the number of students. Our suburban neighbors, mostly white youth, need to understand how they benefit from this system while others are put at a disadvantage. 

Now, this is not to say our suburban neighbors are racist or classist or anything like that, however, if they want to advocate for change they must first learn what types of people are creating the systems they benefit from and how they can be voted out of office. Additionally, we need to examine every facet of our system so that we can build a more equitable society.

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