The time is now to raise our voices on race

Silence now on race will only encourage racist actions in the future

July 23, 2019

By Keith A. Mahoney, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs

Last week was not a good week.

woman with sign at rally
Photo: Pixabay

In the 104 years since the founding of the Boston Foundation, we have operated under a straightforward mission. We are a public charity, with a commitment to work with our community to improve the quality of life for everyone in Greater Boston. Improving that quality of life means many things – among them, access to better jobs, quality education, better health care, safe and affordable housing and food, and a community that reflects and respects your culture and heritage. At a base level, quality includes the right to live your life free from racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant attacks.

And everyone means everyone. From the newest, oldest and most vulnerable residents of our communities – to our members of Congress. I never thought that our mission would include supporting one of our community’s leaders, our friend Ayanna Pressley, in the face of racist attacks from the President of the United States.  But it has come to that.  For all of us.

Our values statement as a Foundation is that “in everything we do, we seek to broaden participation, foster collaboration and heal racial, ethnic and community divisions.” We strongly condemn the language and actions that seek to “other-ize” our friends and neighbors. And we have no tolerance for those in powerful positions who use their power to attack others based on their race, gender, creed, orientation, ethnicity, or religion.

This isn’t about politics. It is not political to stand against racism.  Nor is it political to call out those who espouse racist views. Those are table stakes for a modern, multicultural society. If we continue to stay silent, because “it’s just words,” or “it doesn’t really affect me,” or “I don’t know how to phrase it,” or because we are afraid ourselves that our words could open us up to attacks, then we give the words we abhor space to fester. We give those words space to intimidate, to stoke fear, to normalize hate.

It’s not always easy or comfortable to do this. It’s uncomfortable for some because we worry that if we speak up we become a more visible target because of our race, beliefs, gender or other status. It’s uncomfortable for those of us, like me, who aren’t targets because it forces us to confront the reality that we have benefitted from centuries of systemic white supremacy, systems that have made the road to success far clearer for whites, particularly males, to succeed. Elements of that system are now brought to the surface on a daily basis, stripped of their veneer of civility.

But we must speak. Because words metastasize into actions. We see it in the increase in hate crimes in recent years. We witness it in the cruelty of family separations at the U.S. border. We hear it in the nervous voices of immigrants here in Massachusetts, who languish in intentionally dysfunctional legal systems, or live in limbo as the programs that have allowed them to build lives here themselves are challenged.

Our democracy is far stronger than any single statement. But the longer we stay silent for statement after statement, the longer we all tolerate those words, the more we tacitly encourage the actions that will inevitably follow. We can disagree on policy. We can debate the right size of government, the right level of taxation, the best ways for the government to spend our tax dollars. But we can’t allow hate, intentional cruelty, and a disregard for decency and humanity to dominate the discourse.

What we can do is be open to the conversation. Look at how we got here.  Restate our values publicly.  Live those values in our work together.  Support those friends, neighbors and colleagues who are feeling attacked.  And, as always, be kind to one another.

If we don’t, next week won’t be any better.