Three summers ago I took my first step onto Boston University’s campus as an accepted student in mid-July; when I stepped into the Metcalf Ballroom for new student orientation, I was just thankful to have finally found a way to escape the unrelenting Boston heat. I still had that stupid new-student grin on my face and the naive belief that campus would look something like the brochure the school had sent a few months ago inviting me to attend “multicultural weekend.” By the time I sat down and looked around, I realized that there were decidedly fewer black and brown faces than I’d anticipated.
Before I could think about what that might mean, a couple of deans and representatives of the BU Police Department got up on stage and told us about all of the things they were doing to keep us safe.
After being raised in Georgia, my first three years of college in a major US city located in the Northeastern United States has taught me that Northern white liberals really do believe that their region’s historical identification with the Union (as opposed to the Confederacy) absolves them of their complicity in American slavery as well as the systemic and institutionalized racial oppression that followed and continues to this day. Those in Boston often conveniently forget that the city violently resisted desegregating their separate and unequal schools; they ignore the fact that, in the span of only a generation, Boston public schools went from being 65 percent to only 13 percent white, as white people decided that they’d rather leave the system than send their kids to school with black children. By the time Northern white folks were done rioting and fleeing to the suburbs where black and brown folks couldn’t touch them, Boston schools were once again separate and unequal. And Northern white liberals seemingly view racially discriminatory policing tactics developed in their own region—like “broken windows” policing and the now-illegal stop-and-frisk tactics—as aberrations from their otherwise “colorblind” racial utopia.
Somehow, this brand of liberal views their racial consciences as somehow cleaner than those of their Southern brothers and sisters. But they aren’t.
Exactly 588 days after Trayvon Martin was tailed and then killed by George Zimmerman while walking in his own Florida neighborhood, a cop car followed my black boyfriend for two blocks as he walked down the street. He was coming from a Chinese place in Allston—where wealthy students who are often white and can afford to pay for an off-campus apartment usually choose to live—just west of the outermost BU dormitory, headed to a supermarket only a block away from campus. A cop car was following him, driving backwards down the six-lane road that runs through much of the university’s campus.