What will it take to make the transition?

Posted: October 30, 2013 by meghandoran in Uncategorized
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I’ll admit it – as a part of this work I’ve become obsessed Boston’s school desegregation crisis. Sometimes I think it’s just me, but then I realize, as much as we hate to admit it, it’s a part of our city’s culture to be obsessed with this history. It’s not that we’re all fine-combing every detail of the era – to the contrary, we talk about wanting to forget. But somehow it seems that we (and I’m speaking loosely here with the we) have to constantly measure ourselves against 1974.  Three recent pieces of writing have brought me to reflect on this.

The first was this article in the New York Times discussing the outcome of Boston’s recent Mayoral primary, in which it is noted that:

“Boston has a troubling racial history stemming from its fierce opposition to court-ordered busing in the 1970s to desegregate the city schools.”

The second was an article published in CommonWealth Magazine earlier this month describing the lack of people of color in business leadership positions in the greater Boston-area.  The article start comparing Boston now to Boston in the ‘70s and describing how much has changed in terms of race relations:

Boston has come a long way since the days of school busing in the 1970s. The city is far more racially diverse, with blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other minority groups now accounting for more than half of the city’s population, up from less than a third in 1980. Signs of that diversity are growing. We have a black governor in the State House. Half of the 12 candidates for mayor in the recent Boston preliminary election were people of color. South Boston, the epicenter of the anti-busing movement, is represented by a black state senator of Haitian descent who is scheduled to host the city’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast roast next year.

Finally, there’s Larry DiCara’s newly released memoir Turmoil and Transition in Boston: A Political Memoir from the Busing Era, in which DiCara apparently sets his political career in the 170s and early 80s against the backdrop of desegregation tensions.  (We haven’t gotten to read it yet – we’d love a guest review!)

This is just a sampling of recent references and comparisons to the era of school desegregation that has convinced me that it’s not me – the city seems to be continuously comparing the ‘new’ Boston to the ‘old’ Boston collectively (and has been doing so since at least 1985). Why do we keep returning to this era and measuring ourselves against it? I know I have my thoughts, but I’m also curious what others think.

Of course this is the spirit in which the Boston Busing Desegregation Project operates – we hear and talk a lot about how the city has and hasn’t changed since that era – but we’re also interested in helping move through and beyond such comparisons (think Transitions). Can you imagine a Boston in which we’re not comparing ourselves to the desegregation era anymore? What would it look like?

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