What Happened in Boston

By the wildly talented  Scott Benner  of  ArtLifting

By the wildly talented Scott Benner of ArtLifting

This blog is not my place for sharing political opinions, or instigating any sort of political discourse. This is my place for sharing photographs, anecdotes from travel and snippets of life, whether in Rwanda or Boston. That being said, when I received news this week of a beating  of a homeless man in Boston, inspired by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant remarks, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to say something and this blog felt a valid place to do so. Evidently, my ability to act on my frustrations from Rwanda are limited, but this event warrants conversation, analysis and ultimately action.

Boston is an incredible city: it’s a hub of intellectualism, of innovation, of artistic expression. It’s also a city crippled by a nasty history of racism, classism and unconventional social conservatism. Lauded as a place of exemplary liberalism, Boston is nonetheless gripped by a underreported, not-often-discussed tension around race and division. On a broad level, it’s a diverse enough city with a variety of racial and ethnic groups represented. Upon closer examination, however, this illusion of diversity crumbles: it’s a segregated place, a rapidly gentrifying place and one in which many people live in city pockets according to color. Mattapan, Dorchester, Brookline, Beacon Hill—these places are not the same color, they’re not the same class and every area of the city is afforded different infrastructural and social privileges accordingly.

Unless we’re victims (and thus, if we occupy a position of privilege and social advantage), we shrug at gentrification, tiptoe around the issue of homelessness, and refuse an active discussion around our separation. And the city suffers as a consequence.

In his graduation speech at UWA, Tim Minchin tells us “I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there!” In his speech on kindness, George Saunders describes, “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness…Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” 

When two white guys beat a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, we see a disgusting side of humanity: this is what happens when people treat others as the misconstrued political categories they represent, the hyperbolic ideas about what they’re supposed to be, as things- not as people, as humans. This is what happens when a corporate figure, divorced from the various realities of everyday American life, manipulates his position of power in media and politics to spread reprehensible and hateful messages about people whose lives he will never understand nor empathize with. And people, like these men in Boston, fueled by fear and anger and impulse, internalize these messages and do disgusting things like this.

What happened last week in Boston is not uncommon. This kind of thing happens over and over again, across the States, and is persistently met with a shortlived media fury and eventually apathy by all except those who are targeted. There is no excuse. This is not about politics; this is about people.

Boston, we can do infinitely better than this. I love this city and I’ve seen firsthand the change Bostonians can generate. We have the intellectual capital, the artistic talent, the creative minds, the energy and passion to change this. We need to discuss frankly what is happening, and why, and form an inclusive path forward because what happened last week (and in weeks and months and years prior) is a disappointing and gross representation of who we are.