I have been reading what has and is happening to Rev. Dr. Bennett and his wife. I knew them well enough to say hello, but that is about all. What I saw of them and was most impressed by – they were always helping someone steady their lives and move on. It was not a big deal and never involved a lot of money, from what I could see. They used their friends, acquaintances and strangers to help another human being get their lives on a better track.
This article is my way of trying to help them. Sometimes helping others understand is the best you can give to one another.
I am a black journalist. Having worked in several places, including Boston, it struck me that what has been true of Massachusetts for generations is still true, only being done in a different way – and – the African Americans being negatively affected are different people. Shame has kept those I knew from fighting back, they just wanted to crawl into a hole someplace and be quiet. Rev. Bennett and his wife are putting everything happening to them out in public. Kudos! May it ever be so for everyone and so the system will buckle and break and racism will be a thing of the past.
My family was very negatively affected during their time living in the Greater Boston area. There was always something blocking them; something making their lives difficult. It wasn’t until they moved and were able to look back did they realize and understand who and what was attacking them – and they were being attacked.
As a young person I didn’t understand that. As I have grown older and seen much more of the world and learned of the history of that part of the country, understanding has helped me and has majorly helped my family.
Massachusetts – especially the Greater Boston area – was a part of the country that did not allow African Americans to migrate and live within its borders unless you came “in service”. In other words, unless you were of the ‘servant class.’ I do not say this to denigrate anyone, just to speak truth. That maintained in a very vicious way until my mother’s generation and then it changed. It did not go away, it just morphed to keep that part of institutional racism hidden and to keep up with the times.
One exception that began to be made over time was – if you were hired by Harvard University. The assumption was you would never reach the heights in that Massachusetts Society to threaten the need for New Englanders to feel their identity as part of a group which is greater than and above others.
Today, I am living in the south and it is a very different place. I used to turn my intellectual nose up at southerners, especially African Americans. My assumption was they were somehow intellectually inferior. That came from my New England upbringing.
Racism in Massachusetts is some of the vilest I have seen. Having lived many places, that is my experience.
If, as an African American, you achieve too much, the ‘powers that be’ begin to destroy your life. Either move out or be denigrated, destroyed, stripped of everything you have. It is a racism that is and has been very effective, especially since it is practiced by those pulling the strings and those who simply see someone being pulled down and decide to help because somehow that helps them – white, black, no matter – lots participate.
In my mother’s generation that began to change. There is one caveat. If you are African American and you are ambitious you have to have the traits that New England society deems necessary in its African American or you will be taken down.
I can see what has happened to Rev. Dr. Bennett and his wife. They were not “adopted by” the establishment. They are not willing participants in maintaining the status quo and being one of those willing to do their part of taking down and blocking the path of another African American.
I can hear the howls of protest as you read this. I thought long and hard before writing it, but someone has to stand up and speak truth. This is also much more difficult to write than I thought it would be. This is getting done painfully and pulling on my insides where some excruciating memories live.
My family moved out of the Boston area. They were not ready to adopt or adapt to White Male English Culture and so they didn’t fit and since they were quite intelligent, very well educated and entrepreneurial, they had to go or they would be destroyed. I saw what happened to them over a few years and there is a parallel to what is happening to the Bennett family.
My wish for the Bennett family is that they maintain their personal integrity and always continue to be who they are without making the decision to pick up the “yes ma’m and yes sir” style very prevalent among African Americans in the Greater Boston area. Those who have and are succeeding without blockages, if you notice, have a uniqueness about them. They will never accuse anyone of racism – even if true and needs to be said. They will never step out of a stereotype which makes whites comfortable. They will maintain as low key and invisible as they can and mostly they will polish their ability to make whites as comfortable around them as possible. Which translates to mean they will maintain on a level to make changes only when whites are ready for those changes and choose them to move ahead with the activity which creates those changes.
Even as a journalist, I don’t know how to end this. It has been extremely difficult to write because it is so personal and because I know how negatively it will be received. Sometimes you have to put lessons you have learned through your life out there without caring about how others react. Very rare in journalism, very rare for me.