Black History Month is a nationally-recognized month that honors the contributions of black people to this country. It holds great significance for the people of color in the United States who have been systematically oppressed since the the birth of this nation. During February, several city governments come together in an effort to commemorate the legacy of black people, many of whom are our country’s heroes. Their history is as much a part of American history as anyone else’s.
In the spirit of celebrating the month, the Boston Police Department decided to share a tweet that would honor someone who holds significance in black history. On Sunday night, the department wrote a tweet which honored the legacy of Red Auerbach, a white former Boston Celtics coach. The tweet credited him for hiring the NBA’s first black coach, Bob Russell, and for playing an all-black starting team. The tweet, which has since been taken down by BPD, featured a picture of his statue located in Faneuil Hall. Shortly after it was posted, many people took to Twitter, criticizing BPD’s negligence and ignorance in honoring a white man for Black History Month, Mayor Martin Walsh among them. In a statement he released, Walsh said the tweet “was completely inappropriate and a gross misrepresentation of how we are honoring Black History Month in Boston.”
Given Boston’s reputation as a racist city, this tweet, especially coming from the City’s police department, was certainly insensitive. It read as tone-deaf, and was offensive for several reasons. In many ways, this tweet fits the stereotype of Boston being a racist city.
While it would be easy to dismiss the tweet as being the mistake of one person, this case is indicative of bigger issues. It’s entirely possible and maybe even probable that this tweet went through multiple sets of eyes before being posted. This is concerning. The fact that no one thought about the implications of this tweet could be reflective of a culture of racial insensitivity in our city’s police department. While it would be unfair and inaccurate to label the person responsible for the tweet as racist, as it could have been a genuine mistake, it is clear that their internalized racism led them to find this tweet acceptable.
And if the tweet was approved by multiple people, this also points to the issue of a lack of people of color in our law enforcement. Surely a black cop in the police force would not have approved this tweet. Mistakes like these are the product of a lack of representation. Consulting other people of color could have prevented this tweet from being posted. This issue circles back to Boston’s foundations as a historically white city, with many positions of power still held by white people, including our cops and other law enforcement officials.
While the tweet was taken down in response to the criticism it received, it was still handled poorly. In addition to releasing a statement apologizing for the blunder and taking down the tweet, BPD also re-published a tweet posted earlier in the moth that honored Bill Russell’s legacy as the NBA’s first African-American coach. But it was all too little and too late.
Progress can only be made if we acknowledge these mistakes in a constructive manner. This provides an example for BPD and other police officials to learn from. At the very least, the BPD will learn that honoring a white person for Black History Month defeats the very purpose of the month.